The Philippines has a rich history from years of colonization. This is apparent from the general aesthetics of the country, especially in its capital metropolitan area. But there seems to be a strong tug of war between its long history and the city’s journey toward modern development.
From the historic walls of Intramuros, the astonishing marine landscape of Manila Bay, and the gritty streets of Quiapo to commercial structures like the malls now found in many central business districts, one seems to be traversing a magic portal from history to modernity within the duration of a few steps. There is indeed an inherent kaleidoscopic charm in the aesthetics of Manila.
Beyond this beauty, however, is a strong call to look deeper—especially at the structural integrity of the city’s infrastructure and urban setup. It is like looking inside a gadget with a good casing; we need to make sure that the gears inside are not clunky.
Global cities, after all, are both beautiful and structurally sound, and their built environment fosters and fuels all the other sectors toward inclusive growth and prosperity.
Urban planning concerns land use and the deployment of strategies to maximize inherent resources. And this is achieved through the intelligent design of the urban environment.
As such, there is a strong sense of fragmentation in Manila.
The dense population and the apparent lack of a holistic view in urban development ultimately result in what appears to be a lack of strong urban planning execution in the city. Furthermore, the infrastructure development in the city is wanting, considering the various natural calamities such as typhoons.
Speaking of natural calamities, the Philippines has faced many—from earthquakes to typhoons—making global headlines when it was ravaged by typhoon Ketsana in 2009 and strong monsoon rains in 2012.
Although there is a crisis and disaster management program in place to minimize the adverse effects, we have to remember that a good disaster prevention plan is part of a comprehensive urban planning scheme.
Additionally, there is a strong call for sustainability worldwide. And while the city of Makati now has its first LEED-certified building, sustainable development in the city goes beyond green building. Sustainable design involves socio-economic, physical, and environmental factors. This includes a design’s long-term value for the city and the people who reside in it.
The life cycles of the city’s resources from water and energy are important factors in creating a green city. But considering the way these resources appear to be wasted, Manila is indeed some distance away from being the global city that it aspires to be, although far from being alone in this particular category.
The road to rehabilitation, as they say, starts with the recognition of the problem and that Manila has a strong potential to fully become a global city. Its history and economic foundations are strong as it is. What it needs is the consistent, sustainable growth and development of its infrastructure base and urban development.
This can happen if we have two key ingredients: participation from the public and private sector and the right tools and technologies to leverage on. A good example of this would be Japan’s Pacific Consultants Co.
The company helped the Japanese government to accurately translate Japan’s coastal elevations into 3D digital maps—and thereby model the effects of inland and river flooding due to various disasters, ranging from landslides to torrential rainfall.
In the Philippines, a number of initiatives from the private sector have been presented to the government. The present Manila skyline has been driven by the private sector with high-rise commercial and residential buildings dominating the landscape.
All this seems to be in line with what, according to many, is required to help Manila reach the next step: vertical urbanism just like Singapore and Tokyo. And for this to materialize, the government would need to implement a comprehensive urban planning scheme to ensure a viable execution in line with safety requirements.
Needless to say, this process can be long and arduous. Fixing the structural and infrastructure base of the country’s socio-cultural and economic hub is the policymaker’s job. But, at the same time, we cannot ignore the issues concerning environment, sustainability, and the need to develop urban infrastructures to match the increasing pressure they face.
The technology available today will allow a cost-effective and efficient execution.
One technology that comes to mind is Building Information Modeling (BIM). There is a profound misconception about BIM because many think that it is just a new variety of software. BIM is really a process that relies on information-rich models. It helps designers in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure projects.
One of the benefits of the BIM process is to enable sustainable design by introducing performance analysis early in the design phase. Statistics say that leveraging on BIM can save up to 20% on a project’s estimated cost.
Stanford University Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering conducted a study on 32 major projects that utilized BIM. They discovered that un-budgeted changes can be eliminated by up to 40%, cost estimation accuracy was within 3%, and savings of up to 10% of the contract value can be achieved due to early clash detection.
The immense power to simulate various situations through digital models can help planning practitioners determine the probable impact of, say, a natural calamity on the design with statistical accuracy before it is executed. Adjustments and structures can then be put in place to minimize, if not fully eliminate, the adverse of effects of typhoons, earthquakes, and the like.
What’s more, statistics suggest that using BIM can cut project completion time by up to 7%. Ultimately, stakeholders (e.g., government, property developers) will be able to use simulation models far into the future as the basis for a comprehensive facilities and asset management program, as well as for disaster management and recovery if the unfortunate event occurs.
The road to modernity and development should not be seen as a standalone venture. When it comes to urban and infrastructure development, one must keep a holistic perspective in moving forward.
Manila is indeed one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with its kaleidoscopic cultural identity. The role that digital planning, design, and construction technologies can play as the enabler to a more inclusive, sustainable built environment is a critical component in raising Manila’s level of structural integrity, safety, and aesthetics to become a true global city.
Print ed: 07/13