Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - cielito.habito@gmail.come CIELITO F. HABITO

Once upon a time (around 1920-1930, to be more spe­cific), Manila could be de­scribed as a well-de­signed, masstran­sit-based ur­ban area. It had an ex­ten­sive tran­via or street­car net­work, sim­i­lar to that in San Fran­cisco in Cal­i­for­nia, run­ning on an es­ti­mated 85 kilo­me­ters of tracks. The tran­via met 40 per­cent of the to­tal es­ti­mated de­mand for mo­bil­ity in the city, even as there was a di­ver­sity of ur­ban trans­port modes rang­ing from bi­cy­cles to horse-drawn cale­sas and the newly masspro­duced model T Fords from Amer­ica. There was strate­gic in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment, where the estab­lish­ment of a sub­ur­ban trans­port line was well-co­or­di­nated with hous­ing de­vel­op­ment and the pro­vi­sion of elec­tric power sup­ply. Traf­fic man­age­ment was good, and Manila had all the fea­tures of a well-planned ur­ban area.

That was the his­tor­i­cal back­drop to the “Roadmap for Trans­port In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment for Metro Manila and Sur­round­ing Ar­eas” done jointly in 2014 by the Na­tional Eco­nomic and De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (Neda) and the Ja­pan In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Agency (Jica). That was a time when the city had a pop­u­la­tion of 300,000. Now, nearly a cen­tury later, Metro Manila is home to more than 50 times as many peo­ple, and us­ing “good traf­fic man­age­ment” and “well-planned ur­ban area” to de­scribe the me­trop­o­lis would be a bad joke. There’s so much that needs to be changed, and so much to be un­done if it is to move to­ward earn­ing those de­scrip­tions again.

As tracked by the Neda-Jica study, a big part of the prob­lem arose within the 30-year pe­riod from 1980 to 2010. In that pe­riod, the Metro Manila pop­u­la­tion dou­bled from 5.9 to 11.8 mil­lion. But the num­ber of mo­tor ve­hi­cles rose 4.3 times, from less than half a mil­lion to nearly 2 mil­lion. The num­ber of buses nearly quadru­pled, from 3,600 to 14,200 units. And yet, road length only in­creased 1.5 times, from 675 to 1,032 km. We all know the glar­ing re­sult, and city dwellers suf­fer it daily. Mean­while, pub­lic rail tran­sit spanned 50 km in 2010, against 20 in 1980—an in­crease of 2.5 times, but still much less than the 85 km (of tran­via) we had in the 1920s.

While the study was fo­cused on trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, it noted other chal­lenges at­ten­dant to the growth of the me­trop­o­lis. Hous­ing, for one, is too of­ten for­got­ten in all the talk about in­fra­struc­ture and the “Build, build, build” pro­gram of the gov­ern­ment. There was an es­ti­mated back­log of 500,000 hous­ing units, and need to re­set­tle 560,000 house­holds liv­ing in haz­ard ar­eas be­side wa­ter­ways (prob­a­bly un­der­es­ti­mates by now). And yet our pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture on hous­ing as per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct or GDP pales in com­par­i­son to that of our neigh­bors, and even less than in poorer coun­tries like Bangladesh.

The cap­i­tal re­gion grew from just the city of Manila in the early 20th cen­tury to Metro Manila by the 1970s, and now we see the rise of “Mega Manila” that in­cludes much of Re­gion III (Cen­tral Lu­zon) on the north and Re­gion IV-A (Calabarzon) on the south. The Neda-Jica study notes that “Metro Manila’s prob­lems can no longer be solved within Metro Manila,” and that Re­gions III and IV-A must “max­i­mize pos­i­tive im­pacts of Metro Manila while con­tribut­ing to mit­i­gate Metro Manila’s prob­lems.” This en­tails a de­par­ture from mono­cen­tric plan­ning with the na­tional cap­i­tal at the core of de­vel­op­ment, to a “poly­cen­tric” one that sees the cities of An­ge­les (Clark), Olon­gapo (Su­bic), Malo­los, San Fer­nando, Calamba, Lipa, Batan­gas, San Pablo and Lu­cena as growth poles as well.

What all this re­quires is closer in­te­gra­tion of the three re­gions, and this starts with in­te­gra­tive phys­i­cal plan­ning. Key trans­port links are the NLEx-SLEx con­nec­tor road, the North-South Com­muter Rail­way from Malo­los to Calamba, and the subway that will ul­ti­mately span San Jose del Monte in Bu­la­can to Das­mar­iñas in Cavite. Ur­ban ex­press­ways, smart traf­fic man­age­ment sys­tems and more also form part of the “Dream Plan” for Mega Manila that would lead to a truly in­te­grated, mul­ti­modal ur­ban mass tran­sit net­work. Will we see all this hap­pen within our life­times? Per­haps we could, if the gov­ern­ment can make good on its prom­ise of a “Golden Age of In­fra­struc­ture.”

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