Asia’s Cities Encouraged To Balance Development And Environmental Sustainability

Asia’s Cities Encouraged To Balance Development And Environmental Sustainability

He may never set foot in New Clark City, but taxi driver Edgard Labitag hopes the Philippines’ first green, disaster-resilient, high-tech metropolis will ease the pressure on Manila — meaning fewer hours stuck in traffic and more time with his children. On a sweltering Sunday afternoon, the 42-year-old at the wheel bemoaned another shift spent inching along the infamously congested streets of the capital city of 13 million people. “Crowding, pollution and traffic — this is what people say about Manila,” he said, gesturing at the gridlock. “But luckily, the government has a plan … and [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte is the right man to see it through.”

That plan is New Clark, a 9,450-hectare city that government officials say will be bigger in physical size than New York’s Manhattan by the time it is completed in 25 to 30 years — and have an expected population of more than 1.2 million. The aim is to build a city equipped to deal with climate shocks in one of the world’s most cyclone-affected regions and to promote healthy, eco-friendly and sustainable living by putting nature at the heart of development, urban experts say.

Reflecting a rising trend from Japan and India to the United States, New Clark seeks to challenge conventional urban planning by uniting government, developers, business and the public — and proving that green and resilient cities can be cost-effective. “The objective is not simply to build a disaster-resilient city, but rather a successful, innovative and economically competitive city that is also disaster-resilient,” said Benjamin Preston, a researcher at Rand Corp., a global think tank.

New Clark is still in its infancy, but officials say Duterte is fast-tracking the project as the Philippines, one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies in 2017, seeks to boost spending on infrastructure to create jobs and attract more foreign firms. 

Yet, even as the government races to build New Clark and tackle Manila’s booming population, density and congestion, it must plan the new city with care and avoid past mistakes, says the state-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA). 

“We need to strike a balance between fast-paced development that maximizes value for the private sector and protecting open spaces and making the city walkable, green and resilient,” said Vince Dizon, president of the BCDA, which oversees the project. 

Despite the range of planned infrastructure, only a third of the U.S. $14 billion city’s land will be developed, with two-thirds reserved for green spaces and agriculture, the government said. Houston, Texas, in the U.S. and nearby Singapore provided inspiration on how to plan the city in an integrated manner in which water management and green spaces are linked closely to urban systems, according to Dutch architect Matthijs Bouw.

By focusing on nature and allowing plenty of open space along rivers, for example, New Clark can benefit beyond protecting itself from floods, said Bouw, who has worked on the master plan for the city with the government. 

“Putting green areas on the agenda not only helps with water storage and drainage, but creates community spaces and guides street design in a way that benefits pedestrians and bikes … so social resilience also gets strengthened,” Bouw said.

 Economists at Rand are seeking to demonstrate the social, environmental and economic gains from building resilience and are developing a business case to prove that green urban planning is not only an option for wealthy economies. “Increasingly, we are seeing middle-income countries realize that planning and investing in green areas in cities is critical for their development — and cost-competitive,” said Oesha Thakoerdin of the Asian Development Bank, which is backing the New Clark project.

Urban experts say New Clark City could not only set a shining example for Southeast Asia in terms of balancing rapid economic development with social and environmental policies but may also mark a turning point closer to home. 

It “has the potential to take pressure off Manila so that Manila can also invest in building a more resilient future,” said Lauren Sorkin, director for Asia-Pacific with 100 Resilient Cities, a network backed by The Rockefeller Foundation.

Manila is one of the world’s densest cities, with 14,500 people per square kilometer, almost triple London’s level, U.N. data shows. Congestion could cost the capital U.S. $155 million a day in lost productivity by 2030, a Japanese government study found.