OF TREES AND FOREST
By FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT MANNY VILLAR
The “ber” months, Jose Mari Chan’s voice, and the countdowns on TVs and radios are all reminders that the Christmas season is just around the corner. It is also a reminder that our traffic nightmare is about to get worse.
We are reminded once more about the impending “carmaggedon” by the 2019 report published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which ranked Metro Manila as the most congested city out of all 278 cities in developing Asia.
This is not surprising, of course. We already know, by experience, how horrendous traffic is in Metro Manila. But the ADB study does offer some unique insights on the role of cities in generating growth and the need to ensure mobility in order for cities to be inclusive.
Not to mention a cool and creative approach in studying congestion among Asian cities. The ADB study was based on collected projected trip data from Google maps for 278 natural cities in 28 regional economies with populations greater than half a million.
Using this methodology the ADB found that Metro Manila had a congestion index of 1.5, with Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur coming in second with a congestion index of 1.4 and Myanmar’s Yangon third with a congestion index of 1.38. A 1.5 congestion index means that 50 percent more time is needed to travel during peak hours than during off-peak hours. For reference, the average congestion of all sampled cities was at 1.24.
Part of the problem has to do with rapid population growth. The report noted that the number of urban inhabitants in developing Asia has increased almost fivefold since 1970, from 375 million to 1.84 billion in 2017. This jump represented 53% of global urban population growth from 1970 to 2017. In addition, Asia’s urban population is expected to grow from more than 1.8 billion people in 2017 to almost 3.0 billion in 2050, increasing the urban share of the population from 46% to 64%.
But what I like about the ADB report is that it paints cities — despite overpopulation and related urban problems—as engines of growth and as creators of productive employment. The study asserted that cities generate economic growth and good jobs, becoming “the locus of structural transformation and innovation, where more productive firms, better-paying jobs, and key institutions and amenities are located.”
It also hinted at a possible policy solution to the problem of congestion when it noted that “medium-sized and smaller cities—home to 62% of the urban population—may need more attention.” This is the reason I have been advocating for the longest time for government to make the strategic move of moving development outside Metro Manila. We need good infrastructure and conducive business environments in order to attract investment and people away from the capital.
But more than economic growth and employment, cities need to be inclusive and livable. The ADB report emphasized the need to make transportation efficient and affordable. It also called for the provision of essential infrastructure such as planned road networks accompanying land-use plans and regulations that ensure environmental sustainability as well as “measures to promote affordable housing.” I plan to discuss that last portion in my future columns.
The report correctly urged governments to“increase investment in public transport infrastructure to enlarge and improve the quantity of road and rail networks” in order to improve urban mobility, which “enables people to move easily and quickly between locations within an urban area.”
I am very hopeful that the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program will modernize the country’s infrastructure network by setting up roads, railways, bridges, airports, and irrigation systems aimed at ushering in the golden age of infrastructure.