Retrofitting Metro Manila

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The controversy over the construction of an expressway along the Pasig River has brought forward the frustrated dreams of local urban planners.

In the case of Paulo Alcazaren, who has done wonders in Singapore and Iloilo, he never loses hope.

The reality is, Metro Manila is a hopeless case. We have allowed it to deteriorate through the years. It is not just the squatters who made it ugly, but also high end property developers who have prioritized profits over a truly livable environment.

Our last opportunity to do right was Fort Bonifacio. But it was developed as if we never learned our lessons. It is as congested as the Makati CBD.

Metro Manila from the air shows an urban sprawl that is out of bounds… like a giant amoeba creeping in all directions… even gobbling up Manila Bay’s foreshore area with mindless reclamations. Any attempt to fix things seems, as Paulo puts it, like putting lipstick on a pig.

My friend Manny Gonzalez of Plantation Bay keeps on telling me to give up on Metro Manila. The focus should be on developing an alternative National Capital Region. If that is going to be Clark, we have to make sure we do all the right things, learning from all our grievous mistakes in Metro Manila.

Yet, the City of Manila had an auspicious start, with a city plan made by no less than Daniel Burnham. Yes, that’s the guy for whom Burnham Park in Baguio was named. But the Burnham plan for Metro Manila was abandoned.

For background, Burnham created master plans for the development of a number of cities, including Chicago, Manila, Baguio, and downtown Washington D.C.

You can still appreciate the beauty and logic of his plans for the American cities. But we junked his plans for Manila and Baguio.

Yes, Baguio… today, it looks as messy as Metro Manila, maybe even more ugly.

The last beautiful place in Baguio was Camp John Hay. Wasted. Developers carelessly built whitewashed call centers and other commercial buildings with no regard to the surrounding woodland.

Where were all the noisy urban planners when Baguio was being uglified? What saves the day when visiting Baguio is Bencab’s museum. Bencab said he bought the mountains across his place so the pristine view could be preserved.

Alcazaren, of all people, should know how impossible it is to retrofit Metro Manila to conform with aesthetic and other standards. His elevated walkway on Julia Vargas St in Pasig is not one of his better projects.

Indeed, there seems to be no reason for the elevated walkway at all. It is short and doesn’t even help a pedestrian safely cross to the other side of ADB/San Miguel Avenue. I worked in the area.

The improvement that was done at the street level sidewalk towards Meralco Avenue was better. The elevated walkway only created a new obstruction for pedestrians who would rather not climb up.

Maybe Alcazaren’s Julia Vargas project failed because it was not completed. It was supposed to be part of an ADB-funded walkway that would connect the Ortigas CBD buildings to the MRT. That’s how difficult it is to retrofit in the chaotic Metro area.

Then there is the busway on EDSA. Right now it is on a makeshift basis, experimental as they call it. The idea seems to work, but only because commuter volume is still not up to pre-pandemic level. Once we get back to normal, that busway will fail miserably.

Why? Because there are no provisions to handle higher commuter volume. I have received complaints from bus riders on the current inadequacies of the busway and how the service contract of buses and their dispatch are being badly implemented.

In most bus stops, only one or, at most, two buses can load and unload at the same time. It is taking our transport and MMDA officials forever to make the busway viable for normal use... and it is supposed to go all the way to MOA.

In any case, I found out that the government need not reinvent anything for the busway. There is already an available plan prepared for EDSA by NY-based ITDP, the foremost global authority on busway and BRT development planning.

ITDP made the plan for a BRT under PNoy, but the plan was abandoned by Duterte. For one, it was too expensive. The busway should work fine if they followed the ITDP plan, which works for it as well.

The ITDP design covers the entire EDSA plus adjoining routes. It can handle up to two million passengers daily, while the busway as currently implemented will struggle to serve 500,000.

In any case, our bureaucrats should be humble enough to accept their technical deficiency by dusting off the ITDP study. Bureaucratic hubris and ignorance is why it is impossible to do proper urban infra projects in this country.

Iloilo is an aberration. They had Frank Drilon who focused his pork funds on the project and personally supervised its development with cooperative LGU leaders.

But for Metro Manila, it is almost mission impossible to retrofit to make everyone happy. It is remarkable San Miguel even tried.

Maria Ressa

Friday last week, I woke up to the fantastic news that Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize. She totally deserves it.

I had worked with Maria when she was at ABS-CBN, and even before that. She is tough and uncompromising when it comes to what she believes journalism should be.

And she was able to inspire a bunch of young idealistic journalists to work with her in Rappler, which is another good thing she has accomplished.

Thanks to Duterte, she was given a platform to be tested by fire that made this international recognition possible. This is one achievement Duterte can rightfully claim.

The award is an honor to the country, even as it established the Philippines as a dangerous place to be a journalist. Congratulations, Maria!

Let us see if the Duterte lapdogs in Congress will pass a resolution to honor the first Filipino to win a Nobel Prize.  US President Joe Biden has congratulated Maria. No word from Duterte yet.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

Follow me on twitter @boochanco


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