Let’s be realistic. There is nothing that anyone can do to solve the traffic woes of Metro Manila, even with the ingenuity and hard work of the MMDA chairman.
With its current population of more than 12 million that swells to about 15 million during the daytime, Metro Manila is the undisputed primate city in the country whose close competitors such as Metro Cebu (2.5 million) or Metro Davao (2.2 million) pale in comparison in terms of population size.
According to the World Bank report, Metro Manila currently houses 56 percent of the total urban land development and more than 70 percent of the total urban population of the country. Worse, three of its 16 cities— Manila‘s 42,857 people/sq km; Pateros’ 30,456 people/sq km; and Caloocan’s 27,916 population/sq km—rank as the top three most densest cities in the world respectively dwarfing Mumbai’s 23,000 people/sq km; Paris’ 20,150 people/sq km; or Toyko’s 10,100 people/sq km.
Now you tell me, how do you manage that?
The incidence of thousands of commuters and motorists spending long hours stuck in a traffic jam especially after torrential rains and consequent flooding is a given. We should not have the illusion that our existing and on-going efforts will ameliorate our traffic problem once and for all. Our state of urban affairs is like what the legendary Yogi Berra used to quip. “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
By now, we should already have learned our lesson that there’s no amount of urban revitalization or urban renewal can remedy the unsustainable and cancerous growth of our leading primate city. Short of wiping out the entire metro area and starting from scratch, there is no other way but to find the solution for its problem somewhere else. That is, the key to solving its overdevelopment is the development of other provinces.
I share the frustration of former MMDA Chief Francisco Tolentino because he bears the flak despite his best efforts to a problem that requires a different solution. I think the undue criticism is not only unfair but also misdirected. And yet, I thought he was quite intuitive and on the right track when he intimated a political solution to depopulating Metro Manila via the creation of well-planned urban centers in central, northern and southern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
I say political solution because the master planning, engineering, or architectural components to development are the easiest tasks to do. For me, it’s not difficult to plan and design a medium-range or long-range growth center plan. It’s not a problem at all. But engaging in a political solution is. And that’s an entirely different ballgame.
Both in my academic work and urban planning consultancies, I have consistently espoused the re-rooting of our development to the origins of the city-state that the classical Greeks talked about. And I advocated the role of growth points and maritime development employing innovative and sustainable urban designs consistent to the natural and social characteristics of our island nation.
What is interesting about city-state planning is that, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Already, we have successful models to learn upon. In fact, the successes of Monaco, Macau, Hong Kong, or Singapore can be traced to the application of the city-state model of development.
Unfortunately, there are people who have the planning skills and expertise like me but do not possess the motherboard of urban or town planning. In short, someone has to exercise the political will to fulfill the vision of a new development from the beginning to the end.
It’ll be interesting to find out in the coming election. Who among the political contenders local as well as national do possess and articulate the vision and the determination to finally implement the long overdue, serious, no-nonsense, and non-distracted development expansion throughout the archipelago?