Compact cities
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete (The Freeman) - October 2, 2018 - 12:00am

Part 1

We’re treading on a concept that is totally alien to the traditional theory of spatial development. For those who are not familiar with “compact cities” the first images we draw in our minds are “dense cities!” And density is bad, right? You can browse through books, researches, and journals over the last 30 years and you get dozens of articles on all the urban woes of dense cities, exemplified by slums/informal settler areas, with no adequate provision of “everything.”

Then we compare them to neat manicured “bungalows” of the typical American suburbs inadequately copied by our subdivisions, “villages” (not the rural ones), townhouses, and “residences,” and we are convinced that indeed that is the way to go. In Cebu it started with the first Camella Homes in Mactan decades ago, which multiplied a hundredfold, and until today, very few realized this is the reason why we need to have a third, or a fourth bridge to Mactan.

We’ll deal with Metro Cebu later. Let’s recall a six-part series we wrote in 2013, on author Dan Brown’s description of Manila in his infamous book, “Inferno,” adequately criticized immediately by government officials in the capital. In it, Mr. Brown called Manila as the “gates of hell,” with the following descriptors, in this order: “the most densely populated city on earth, six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade…,” He should have seen it today, five years later, especially on the traffic part. But this is not about traffic, this is about the accolade “the most densely populated city on earth.”

There it is again – density is bad, we should all go live in the countryside. Which is what many were shouting for decades, whether it’s dispersal of industries or dispersal of population. They probably mean the same thing. But the judgment is clear – density is bad, the denser you are, the worse you become. So, what’s this new call for compact cities? Aren’t compact cities dense cities? Search the term, “compact cities” and you get a plethora of passionate articles about compact urban form. In fact, if you search much enough, you’ll find your way into the proposition that there is a nice direct link between compact cities and the BRT! And biking for that matter. And the new kid on the block – Transit-oriented Development (TOD). These are what the world is excited about these days. And surprise, surprise! They call for cities with much higher densities as the way to be --as the goal for the future. Add to it the current knowledge that compact cities contribute less carbon emissions and thus, address climate change. Short of saying compact cities are the hope of the future, but I guess a few people already said that.

Naysayers always abound whenever conventional wisdom is challenged by new ideas, but it’s worth delving into, if only to have an informed opinion. Or maybe these are not entirely opposites. Anyway, we start off with looking at two cities: Atlanta (USA) and Barcelona (Spain). You might want to google that ahead. (To be continued)

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