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Livin La Vida Manila

By Jing lejanoApril 2, 2017

The Dream of a Livable City

As cities continue to drive economic growth in most countries, they have become increasingly influential in the global community. The city of Lima, for example, represents 70 percent of Peru’s GDP. The GDP of the city of Los Angeles boasts is almost 1.5 times greater than that of Saudi Arabia’s. In 2015, Metro Manila accounted for the largest contribution at 36.5 percent to the country’s GDP valued at P7.59 trillion.

As these cities continue to transform themselves into economic powerhouses, there is increasing concern about whether these urban centers do provide livable conditions to its citizenry. In Mexico City, for example, a report from the Asian Development Bank found out that commuters sit in traffic for 110 hours every year. That’s more than four days stewing in the midst of smog. Well, that’s certainly not a safe nor a sane way to live!

 

But what exactly is a livable city?

Jose E.B. Antonio, chairman and chief executive officer of Century Properties Group, says “Livable cities uplift and enhance the quality of life of its citizens because of its balance and efficiency. Some of the characteristics of livable cities include a sound infrastructure, efficient mass transportation, and real time connectivity with the world through high-speed technology.”

 

“A livable city can be modern and fast-paced, but it has nodes of open spaces and greenery that encourage citizens to take a break, walk, and socialize. It offers a good mix of cultural, tourism entertainment, and leisure attractions. It is successful in managing peace and order, pollution, public health, and sanitation,” explains Antonio, who is also chairman of Philippine Chapter of the Asia Pacific Real Estate Association (APREA).

 

Amillah Rodil, urban planner, adds, “A livable city is one where its residents have access to jobs and affordable housing. It provides a variety of options in terms of goods, services, education, recreation, and entertainment. It should have an efficient movement network and a clean, safe, and secure environment.”

 

Peace and order, traffic, waste disposal, air quality, and proper zoning compliance are also factors that must not be forgotten, says Architect Gene Arthur T. Go, managing director of GSN+p Architecture Studio.

Julia Nebrija, MMDA assistant general manager for operations, explains,

 

“There are ways to measure livability but generally a livable city is where people can create the kind of life that they want and deserve. It’s a place where you can find a good job, find a secure home, and you can move around safely. You can educate your kids and, at the same time, you’re enjoying whether you have hobbies or recreation or leisure that a city provides an exciting quality of life. I wouldn’t just say having the basics but also providing something of an extra, otherwise, why don’t you just live in the suburbs? You live in a city to enjoy what the city offers, right? It has to come from having equal opportunity to things but also having a lot of enjoyable things to do, right?”

 

city is where people can create the kind of life that they want and deserve. It’s a place where you can find a good job, find a secure home, and you can move around safely. You can educate your kids and, at the same time, you’re enjoying whether you have hobbies or recreation or leisure that a city provides an exciting quality of life. I wouldn’t just say having the basics but also providing something of an extra, otherwise, why don’t you just live in the suburbs? You live in a city to enjoy what the city offers, right? It has to come from having equal opportunity to things but also having a lot of enjoyable things to do, right?”

 
What Qualities Make For a Livable City?

As the Asia Pacific region continued its direction toward urbanization, there arose a need to place these cities under a microscope, if you will. Studying urban centers will not only allow these veritable kingdoms to learn from each other’s experience, but also to share best practices when it came to providing their citizens with a safe place to live, work, learn, and thrive in. Building Better Cities is one such study.

The first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) city study analyzing 28 key urban centers across the 21 economies in five continents, Building Better Cities reviewed 39 data indicators to measure a city’s livability, sustainability, and competitiveness. The study was undertaken by Pricewaterhouse Coopers with Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chief executive officer of Ayala Corporation, and Guillermo Luz, co-chairman of the National Competitiveness Council.

City Ranking

Rank

City

1

Toronto

2

Vancouver

3

Singapore

4

Tokyo

5

Seattle

6

Auckland

7

Seoul

8

Melbourne

9

Los Angeles

10

Osaka

11

Hong Kong

12

Taipei

11

Hong Kong

13

Shanghai

14

Beijing

15

Kuala Lumpur

16

Bangkok

17

Santiago

18

Mexico City

19

Novosibirsk

20

Chiang Mai

21

Bandar Seri Begawan

22

Manila

23

Lima

24

Ho Chi Minh City

25

Jakarta

26

Cebu

27

Surabaya

28

Port Moresby

Top Five Cities and Manila

City

Culture and Social Health

Connectivity

Health and Welfare

Environmental Sustainability

Economics

Toronto

1

8

3

2

8

Vancouver

4

9

4

1

9

Singapore

9

1

5

9

2

Tokyo

5

3

1

12

3

Seattle

6

12

8

3

6

The study grouped 39 data indicators into five categories of urban excellence: Culture & Social Health, Connectivity, Health & Welfare, Sustainability, and Economics.

Category

Data Indicators

Culture and Social Health

Literacy and enrollment, income equality, percentage of population with higher education, Innovation Cities index, middle class population growth, cultural vibrancy, political environment, Corruption Perception index, tolerance and inclusion

Connectivity

Broadband quality, mobile broadband, public transport systems, mass transit coverage, traffic congestion, airport to CBD access, airport connectivity, international tourists, hotel rooms

Health and Welfare

Health system performance, hospital bed density, physician density, crime, electricity access and consumption, food security index, housing

Environmental Sustainability

Air pollution, water quality and risk, natural disaster risk, recycled waste, non-hydro renewable electricity generated, public park space

Economics

Ease of doing business, cost of living, household consumption per capita, attracting FDI, GDP per capita, rate of real GDP growth, openness to trade, incidence of economic crime

WHAT DOES A LIVABLE CITY LOOK LIKE?

As if we needed any more reasons to migrate to Canada, two of its biggest cities, Toronto and Vancouver, take the top two spots in the 28-city survey. Both fared well across all of the five categories with the top city, Toronto, having successfully navigated the challenges of a diverse population. Forty-six percent of its population was born elsewhere.

 

But we need not look too far to see what a livable, sustainable, and competitive city looks like as only a couple of hours away from Manila are Singapore and Tokyo, which placed second and third respectively.

 

Singapore maybe APEC’s oldest urban center, but it became a smart city even before the term was coined. It has an intelligent transport system with over 164 kilometers of expressways and road tunnel systems, making moving around the city a seamless experience. It also transformed its greatest liability, water shortage, into a producer industry by exporting $7 billion worth of its water-tech solutions round the globe.

 

An economic powerhouse, Singapore is also a favorite among tourists, ranking seventh. Among all cities in the survey, it is best in the following indicators: health system performance, controlling crime, housing, ease of doing business, and openness to trade.

 

Tokyo is not only on the travel wish list of every other Filipino but perhaps on that of every other tourist in the world as well. Its cultural vibrancy and modern infrastructure meet new and evolving expectations of what makes a great city, attracting millions of visitors the world over. In the 2015 Global Destination Cities Index: Tracking Global Growth by MasterCard, Tokyo is the 11th most popular urban destination globally.

 

Not only is it quick and easy to get around Tokyo, it is also very safe. Indeed, it is one of the biggest cities with the lowest incidents of crime. Citizens can also depend on excellent health care.

 

Where Art Thou Manila?

If we are to look at the numbers, then suffice it to say that Manila has its work cut out for it. Save for its relatively good ranking in the culture and social health category, which may be attributed to its educated population and strong middle class growth, Manila hugged the bottom of most categories, and most indicators.

 

Anybody who has ever been stuck in the parking lot that is EDSA knows that connectivity is of the utmost concern.

 

Antonio says, “One of the greatest needs of Metro Manila is better infrastructure to decongest our roads, provide efficient transport, make inter-island travel much easier, and our country much more accessible to the world. All initiatives to make Manila a livable city should be done for the long term, and the P171.14 billion worth of nine major infrastructure projects approved by NEDA for implementation is a very good start.”

 

Part of that P171.14 billion package includes P23.5 billion flood management project fund, involving the rehabilitation of 36 pumping stations in Manila, Pasay, Taguig, Makati, and Malabon and the construction of 20 new pumping stations in Manila, Pasay, Pasig, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Caloocan, Valenzuela, and Quezon City alongside the P37.8 billion Metro Manila Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) involving 48.6 kilometers covering Monumento up to Diosdado Macapagal Avenue/Roxas Boulevard, with integrated routes to the Ortigas Business District, Bonifacio Global City, the Makati Business District, and the NAIA terminals.

 

Corollary to this is MMDA’s goal to open up streets and waterways both as a means of transportation and as a venue for recreation.

 

Nebrija explains, “If you look at our seven mandates, it covers everything from flood management to solid waste, public transport, public health safety, and environmental protection. It’s everything that would basically provide a good quality of life to people in Metro Manila. A lot of that intersects on the streets and in the waterways. So if waterways and streets are enjoyable places for people to exist in, either they’re passing through them or they’re spending time, then we’ve done our job, I would say.”

 

Running about 26 kilometers from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay, Pasig River runs through the heart of Manila, and could very well assist in the decongestion of Manila’s roads and thoroughfares.

For the past few months, Nebrija has had her hands full fixing the Pasig River Ferry system, repairing and rehabilitating boats and improving schedules.

She says, “The ferry makes a lot of sense. But a lot of people don’t know about it or they wouldn’t think about using it. Even if people aren’t using it to commute every day, if they use it on the weekend, it’s nice to have. The ferry is quiet, it’s detox. When I used to commute from Makati to Manila, I’d use the ferry and it would be such a nice part of my day. Commuting and moving around the city shouldn’t just be efficient, it should also be enjoyable. I think the river has a lot to offer in that sense.”

 

“The river, there are times when we have to do cleaning operations but compared to like 10 years ago, it’s doing really well. The smell is not what it used to be,” she adds.

 

Antonio believes, however, that for Pasig River to be truly resuscitated a more concerted effort is needed.  He says,

 

“The challenge is how to get these cities to work together and harmonize their strengths, as well as share and adapt best practices. One good example is creating a charter for all Metro Manila LGUs to address the Pasig River cleanup and rehabilitation once and for all. As the river’s tributaries traverse through most Metro Manila cities, LGUs can unite and sign a treaty for how the river program can be managed as one concerted effort, with the aid of NGOs and the private sector.”

 

Another area which bears looking into is city zoning, respecting specific spaces deemed for specific purposes. Architect Go, says, “Unfortunately, almost all the LGUs have inherited a corrupted system that allowed for the non-compliance of proper zoning. The only areas that I can think of that can be close to this is Bonifacio Global City but then again, in terms of traffic it is still failing to address it effectively. This is owing to insufficient parking spaces and lack of traffic custodians.”

 

“The closest that always comes to mind is Clark and Subic as these areas have always set the standards. I have read that Marikina and Valenzuela have local ordinances that seek to rectify but again, current zoning violations by structures only dampen the efforts as well as traffic solutions.”

 

Rodil takes it one step further by suggesting a less transitory, long-term approach. She calls for setting up a metropolitan governance system that can implement a long-term program regardless of changes in political leadership.

 

Indeed, this is the same conclusion forwarded in the Building Better Cities study.

 

“In researching this report, we heard repeatedly the call for urbanization to become a national issue—for a new collaboration between national and urban governments to rapidly resolve metropolitan issues, via an urbanization agency, if you will. It only stands to reason: if cities are absorbing greater percentages of national population and producing greater percentages of national GDP, then national attention needs to be directed toward facilitating a city’s ability to address its challenges in a fluid manner.”
 

But even as a city resolves the many issues inherent in urbanization, there is one thing that it must never forget: its unique identity. A city is more than just a location pin. A city is its streets, its sights and sounds, its people.
 

As simple and as naive as it sounds, opening up the streets is one way of giving back the city its very flavor.

Nebrija says, “It’s a simple way to start the path toward more livable streets. I think it’s a lot more important than what it’s being given credit for. You can even look at other cities, what they’ve done—the pop-up thing, tactical urbanism. It’s going up, putting down traffic cones, and saying this is a bike lane for today and seeing what happens. It’s the process. It’s being able to take the incremental movements. Look at how food parks and night markets, and how they create a narrative toward

what a livable city could be, without first a master plan. There are lots of ways to go about it, but I think it’s important that people participate. I think every city has to find its balance between bottom up and top down, and it’s always a negotiation. Every city is always in a flux and how much, what’s the right balance of bottom up and top down is always the struggle for every city.”

 

Quotable Quotes

“Violent crime is the starkest indication of an unhealthy city. Residents deserve to live without high levels of fear, able to move about their city unhindered.”

“The study found a strong link between an educated population and open government and a more tolerant society. Encouragingly, it was also found that many cities in this study are making efforts to promote economic mobility through education.”

“The biggest cities that showed the lowest incidents of crime also had the highest literacy rates for their population group (Tokyo and Seoul).”

 

Take to the Streets

It used to be a common sight in Manila. Men and women, teens and kids out on city streets, enjoying the cool breeze in the air. These days, however, people prefer the comfort of their homes against the sights and sounds of the street – and why wouldn’t they? There is the safety issue, for one, and there is the inconvenient fact that unscrupulous car owners have taken to parking their vehicles overnight on virtually every other side street in Manila.

 

Julia Nebrija, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) assistant general manager for operations, hopes to entice people back to the streets by designating specific city areas as family zones on Sundays.

 

As stipulated in Resolution No. 16-13 of the Metro Manila Council, the policymaking body of the MMDA, weekend family zones shall be established to give space for residents to commune with neighbors and enjoy the outdoors. Five local governments have signed on for the project thus far: Caloocan, Taguig, Navotas, Muntinlupa, and Pasig. More are expected to join soon.

The idea of residents taking back the streets is not entirely new. Certain areas of the Ortigas Business Center are actually blocked off from cars on weekends, giving space for its residents to whiz around in their skateboards, go the distance in their bikes, or just hang out and shoot the breeze.

Indeed, the local government units quickly warmed up to the project. Some of them actually had similar ideas but just needed a little push. While MMDA initiated the project, the LGUs will take charge of their own family zones, designating areas they deem appropriate and plotting out activities they deem relevant.

Nebrija explains, “This is just building on the successes of places like Emerald Avenue. Pasig now has five such streets every Sunday. It’s something we’d like to encourage other cities to adopt. It’s really good practice especially in places that don’t have designated parks and there’s no more space to build it in. The easiest way is to reclaim a street. It’s like saying, ‘Don’t we deserve a place on Sunday to be with our families that’s enjoyable?’ So if we don’t have a place to do that, we’ll just take a street to do it.”

 

In the future, Nebrija hopes for some form of interlinking or interaction of family zones between cities. For instance, a bike lane from one city may extend to another, allowing residents to visit other urban centers minus the smoke and the smog.

 

“It’s going to evolve. This is just a first step. What’s important about it is getting towards livability as a process. It’s about engaging people, slowly working at offering new visions for the city, and finding new ways for them to engage in the vision that’s just not, ‘Here’s a rendering on a piece of paper. Wait 10 years for it happen.’ It’s a good way of engaging the people to the process of creating a livable city.”