Nuances of Urban Density
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete (The Freeman) - February 18, 2020 - 12:00am

(Part 5) – Freeways

In its simplest term, we call it a highway. But all over the world, it goes by other names – interstate, autobahn, expressway, etc. They’re basically continuous roads on long distances with few or even intersections, allowing for very fast flow of vehicles. When these were first built in developed countries, they connect distant cities and even regions, never for distances you cover in commuting to work. They became urbanized later, to beat the dreaded urban traffic congestion on the surface as you whir above them fast.

But they disrupt traditional land use and zoning. As freeways are built in areas beyond city boundaries, residential areas flourish very far away. The North and South Luzon Expressways (NLEX/SLEX) are good examples of these, enticing city folks to transfer to greener and cheaper areas as far as a hundred kilometers away. Anyway, travel time is very short and relatively affordable, you can get to work in time and be home early and have a nice evening with family and friends. It’s as good as it lasts. Land use and zoning goes beyond a city to other cities.

Until the inevitable happens. And it surely will as it is inevitable. You can only do so much road infrastructure – an annual growth rate of 3% is already extremely difficult. Meanwhile, every time an expressway opens, car sales shoots up 10 to 30%! You will fill up the space in three to five years, then all your travel woes happen. Three-hour drives. That’s one way, the return is another three hours. You’re lucky it’s not four each way. And there’s nothing in sight to give you a hope for relief. Maybe another expressway promised by businessmen and politicians.

The problem is we got it all wrong along the way. Freeways were designed to transport people to some specific destination, not for your daily work. A freeway to an airport is a good example. Or one that goes to a resort from the airport or seaport. One where the annual growth rate is calculated and not directly induced by man’s propensity to buy a car every time driving to work becomes easy. That’s just a bonanza for car makers and dealers.

And so, what do people do? Aha – look for spaces for rent, some boarding houses in the city, near their work places. Endure the agony of very cramped spaces intended only for sleeping and not really to raise a family, just so you get to work on time and have enough time to rest in the evening. Then spend just your weekends with your family in your very nice homes in the province. After you endure the weekend traffic at the expressways.

After all, it is still all about urban density. We think if we’re sparsely distributed, we’re better off. Think again. Ask those European and Asian cities which are densely configured but have walkable livable space with vibrant human interaction. And they bike or take transit to work. At the end of the day, I think all of us just want to live happily. Don’t you? (To be continued)

TRADITIONAL LAND
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