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Moving toward polycentric cities

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08th-Nov-2018       
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Architect Felino A. Palafox, Jr. :
To compare a city to the human anatomy, the green spaces are the lungs; the transport corridors are considered as the veins; and the economic centers are the heart of the city. With all the traffic congestion and the pollution, Metro Manila needs a heart bypass and a lung transplant!
Urban sprawl is a term that is no stranger to us. It is described by Encyclopædia Britannica as the rapid expansion of the geographic extent of cities and towns, often characterized by low-density residential housing, single-use zoning, and increased reliance on private automobile for transportation. This definition certainly suits Metro Manila very well: low-density and gated communities within the business districts, inefficient mass transportation system forcing many to opt for private vehicles.
Metro Manila is one of the fastest growing regions in terms of population and developments. The rapid increase of residential and built-up areas has caused the deterioration and the depletion of the green spaces in the region. Because of urban sprawl, we only have approximately 551.7 hectares of green spaces, which include the La Mesa Ecopark, Quezon Memorial Circle, Balara Filters Park, Ayala Triangle Gardens, Rizal Park, and UP Diliman, to name a few of the handful of green spaces in the region. This does not even compose 1 percent of Metro Manila's total land area, which is 61,960 hectares. Also, just imagine, with Metro Manila's population of 12.8 million (PSA, 2015), there would be 23,201 people cramming into one hectare of green space. Clearly, the population-green spaces ratio is insufficient for quality living. Other developing cities in Philippines are looking up to Metro Manila, specifically its CBDs, but is this the type of development what they should follow?
Tall, polycentric cities
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) annually holds an international conference, and this year's conference in Dubai centered on the topic of polycentric cities, and the topics have posed the question whether tall, polycentric cities are the way to go. Being one of the master planners of Dubai, I am honored to have been a guest speaker at this conference.
Quoting CTBUH's definition, tall polycentric cities have three or more clusters of tall buildings that are clearly separated, visually and geographically. These clusters are a group of buildings that are significantly taller than the surrounding urban fabric, and are visually and geographically distinct, with at least five buildings (completed or topped out) of at least 100 or 150 meters, depending on local height context.
While we admire the towering skyscrapers of London, New York, Dubai, and many other first-world cities, we have a hard time accepting the concept of constructing tall buildings in the Philippines. One factor is the environment impact tall buildings create. However, there is more to vertical urbanism than just its impact on the environment.
Roads, railways, and other transportation system which connect cities and destinations to each other certainly boosts the economy of the center. However, this type of monocentric city development causes sprawl development towards the outskirts of the core. Just like what we experience in Metro Manila, the distance from the CBDs affects the housing type and affordability, hence employees who are maxed out of real estate within the vicinity of their workplace, are forced to look for affordable housing units outside the economic core.
Furthermore, cities contribute to 75 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, while forests only absorb approximately 35 percent of it. To counter this, cities need to incorporate green spaces into their planning. But how to make way for green spaces when cities are already filled? Tall polycentric cities ensure that while the growing population will be catered to, there will be more than enough space for green areas as well.
That is why CTBUH is promoting green and sustainable tall buildings. When buildable spaces in the area are maxed out, the only way to go is up. To negate or neutralize the negative environmental impact of constructing tall buildings, architects, planners, engineers, and designers are constantly looking for design solutions and innovations that can be incorporated in the buildings. No longer should tall buildings be looked upon as big blocks of pollutants; rather they should be used to enhance the environment. One example is Dubai's upcoming Royal Atlantis, a high-rise hotel and residential structure. This complex is designed to be a permeable structure - one that does not block wind flow, the view, and access. The design provides more open areas and more green spaces open for the public that would enhance the social and natural environment of the place, as compared to building for low-density and gated communities. Dubai's warm climate is suitable for outdoor activities year long. Taking advantage of this, the design perfectly meshes the indoor and outdoor spaces.
Learning from Dubai's buildings, architecture plays a major role in designing environment-friendly buildings. While sustainable buildings are definitely much more expensive to construct compared to ordinary ones, its value is on the cost you can save in operation and maintenance, and preservation of our environment. For Dubai, tall polycentric cities add a significant value to the destination, adds to the nation's skyline, and serve as economic boosters to support various sectors such as tourism, hospitality, and retail.
PH for tall polycentrism
Despite the many advantages of tall polycentric cities, local context and natural environment need to be considered. While this does not apply to all cities, this can be a model and a possible solution for developing urban cities. We should learn from the mistakes of Metro Manila. This monocentric development created this Imperial Manila which hindered other cities to be developed properly.
This is one of our considerations when we planned Pampanga and Metro Davao. We followed the principles of a polycentric cities to distribute resources and growth among its cities and municipalities. For Pampanga, we divided the province into four clusters: Aerotropolis, Agropolis, Aquapolis, and Ecopolis, grouping together cities and municipalities with complementing resources. Development thrusts will be different for each cluster to better suit their characteristics. In planning for Metro Davao, we aimed to create multiple economic centers to distribute growth and development across the region. Our country's sustainability calls for decentralizing Metro Manila, which can be achieved through polycentrism. However, should cities opt to go for tall buildings, studies should be conducted whether such development is appropriate.
Courtesy: Manila Times

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