San Miguel Corporation (SMC)’s P740-billion New Manila International Airport in Bulacan will be the first “pacesetter for green cities” in the country, addressing social and environmental concerns to be both sustainable and equitable, according to top urban planner Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr.
The “airport plus city” or “aerocity” will adopt practices that its master planner Palafox Associates implemented in 1,700 projects in 45 countries worldwide.
“We need at least 100 new cities all over the Philippines by 2050,” Palafox pointed out.
And without green urban planning, “Our cities will become as bad, if not worse than Metro Manila,” he warned.
“The mistake in Makati’s central business district, Bonifacio Global City, and Ortigas is exclusionary or discriminatory zoning–excluding the employees from their places of work,” he elaborated.
“Employees are like Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in their own countries, because they are five to six hours away from their places of work and families, because of traffic congestion,” says Palafox.
“Before, real estate criterion was always location. Now, it’s accessibility and mobility.”
“That is why the infrastructure that both government and private sector companies like SMC are doing now, are very welcome, as they alleviate the traffic that many people have no choice but to endure,” Palafox added.
In 1990, Makati reclassified and increased the density of the Makati Central Business District (CBD) by four times.
However, access capacity and mobility did not increase correspondingly.
Adding to the problem is the fact that the CBD is constricted by gated, low-density neighborhoods, villages, and a gated cemetery–making it more difficult for most people to walk to work.
“Elsewhere in the world, New York City, European cities, Singapore, are ‘walkable’ because within 250-750 meters, there is a walking facility. Around Makati City, BGC, and Ortigas, you’re surrounded by gated communities, so you have to walk about one to two kilometers to go around,” he explained.
“Our planning in the Philippines had the wrong model: Los Angeles, which was designed for automobiles.”
The prevailing influence of Spanish rule was likewise a constraint.
“I’m talking about the colonial town plaza concept, where the elite or illustrados lived around the town plaza where the church, munisipyo and central park are. Meanwhile, the peasants or indios and Chinese merchants lived in extramuros, or outside. That was 500 years ago, but it’s still a concept in our urban planning development today,” he lamented.
For this reason, “We will make sure to do everything right (in the aerocity) because this is our biggest investment to date, and our legacy to the next generations,” SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon S. Ang underscored.
“The airport is just one component. What we’re building is the Philippines’ first truly green city of the future,” he reiterated.
“Specifically, we will clean up the environment, clear the river systems to enable water to flow freely again and address flooding; we will establish mangrove forests, with some 190,000 mangroves all over Bulacan and neighboring provinces to enhance biodiversity and help mitigate tidal flooding.”
“We’re also looking to develop and enhance natural habitats of marine and bird species. There’s so much more we can do,” he added.
They will adopt green architectural and green urbanism guidelines over and above the country’s building and zoning codes, which Palafox said no longer follows international standards.
They will follow the structural codes of other countries, specifically those situated in similar earthquake zones as the Philippines.
They will also create an “innovation hub” where both learning institutions and technology-driven global companies can thrive.
As such, Palafox has put forth a “town and gown” or university town concept, where learning institutions and the community partner together, such as in Cambridge and Boston in the United States, where Harvard University is.
SMC is also looking to put up a medical and research facility along with the school.
The aerocity project will be equipped with the latest in digital infrastructure, to enable people to work and conduct business anywhere.
The development will also have lots of open spaces, as these are the “lungs” of a city.
Palafox cited that Metro Manila went from green to gridlock because many parks and open spaces were reclassified into sellable and buildable properties.
As the population grew, the parks and open spaces started disappearing.
Ultimately, Bulacan will not just be a province with an airport, but an airport-driven province.