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On how communities should be?

This post is related to my recent post about Philippine cities and municipalities already somehow being 15-minute units. I am sharing another article I’ve read and reread for its current relevance.

Litman, T. (March 15, 2021) “A Complete Community is All Mixed-up,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112565?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-03222021&mc_cid=628c8ee4b1&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed:

The article is loaded with references that you can download and use in research or practice. And there are these two tables – Walk Score Ratings and Public Amenities – that are quick guides or references to what is desired to be achieved in communities.

Enjoy!

On the principles of good infrastructure

Since the Philippine government is engaged in its Build, Build, Build infrastructure development program, and agencies like the DPWH and DOTr often or regularly refer to what’s happening in the US in terms of projects, guidelines and standards, I am sharing the following article on the principle

Marshall, A. (March 18, 2021)“What Are the Five Principles of Good Infrastructure?” Governing.com, https://www.governing.com/community/Five-Principles-Good-Infrastructure.html [Last accessed: 4/5/2021]

Despite obviously being an article about US infrastructure in the context of the new administration there, there are just too many takeaways or relevant information here that applies to us and how we are developing and maintaining our infrastructure. To quote:

“First of all, cost matters. The evidence is pretty clear now that we pay several times more than other advanced nations to build transit infrastructure, particularly tunnels, and possibly highways as well. It appears we pay too much to build public parks.

Second, time matters. We still get estimates for infrastructure projects whose construction stretches into decades, when it should be a few years. Time relates to cost. Adding time makes projects more expensive.

Third, connections matter. Whether it’s a light-rail line joining up to a bus line, or an interstate exit linking to a town, the connections between infrastructure systems are important. High-speed rail lines need to intersect seamlessly with the cities they serve. Infrastructure can’t be designed in a vacuum. Urban planners and designers should be at the top of the infrastructure food chain, so that transportation and other departments work for comprehensive visions.

Fourth, design matters. Western Europe has been erecting light, airy bridges for decades, while we have continued to build heavy concrete slabs. This is changing, but we lag behind other countries in the design quality of everything from bridges to subways.

Finally, ownership matters. Even the best-designed and swiftly built infrastructure will turn bad if we give one or two private companies total control over them. As we use private companies for broadband, cable, telephones, data management and the power that runs our homes, we need to remember this. When we can’t (or won’t) have public systems, then the private ones need to be carefully managed.”

To what extent do you think these principles apply to our case?

On planning communities for children

I am currently involved in a project concerning child road traffic injury prevention (CRTIP). The topic of road safety is also close to my heart since a beloved aunt died due to injuries sustained after being hit by a jeepney. She was in great health and walked almost daily between our home in Iloilo and the church to hear Mass. Children and senior citizens are among the most vulnerable road users and so I believe we must address their needs more than able-bodied adults. That would probably make our communities safer and friendlier to most people. Here is an article that tackles planning for communities from the perspective of children and families:

Litman, T. (March 9, 2021) “Planning communities for children and families,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112498?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-03112021&mc_cid=5a75b816a6&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed:  3/14/2021]

To quote from the article:

“Here is a summary of child-oriented urban design features:

  1. Children need opportunities to join a loose social group of other children without a formal—or prearranged—invitation to play.

  2. Children need access to safe, uninhibited outdoor play to support their physical and mental health. Outdoor play should include opportunities to interact with the natural environment—finding bugs, smelling flowers, playing in puddles, or collecting objects—without the need for excessive rules, oversight, or segregation.

  3. Children need environments that are safe from traffic, pollution, and undue physical or social hazards, including safe routes to and from school and local playgrounds, allowing them to travel throughout their neighbourhoods safely in order to develop confidence, resilience, and independence.

  4. Children need private spaces for themselves and their friends, including tree houses, forts, or clubhouses that are close to home yet away from public view. 5.

  5. Children need stable, appropriate, and affordable housing that provides them with private space to rest, study, and play.

  6. Children need local access to appropriate early childhood education, child care, and community schools.

  7. Children benefit from the opportunity for their parents to work locally.

  8. Children benefit from walkable communities, with infrastructure for safe walking, cycling, and recreation.

  9. Children benefit from diverse, multi-generational communities, where they can interact with—and learn from—children, adults, and seniors of all races, religions, cultures, and incomes.

  10. Children should be given an opportunity to effectively and productively participate in decision-making processes.”

On planning our cities from a child’s perspective

Wouldn’t it be interesting to find how children would plan their cities? No, this is not the lego building kind of exercise but something closer to actual planning exercises where children not only act as planners but stakeholders themselves. We always say they are the future and that know that they will inherit whatever good or bad we are doing now, and yet they have little say in that future. Perhaps we should heed what they think our cities require?

Ergler, C. (January 4, 2021) “Young children are intuitive urban planners — we would all benefit from living in their ‘care-full’ cities”, The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/young-children-are-intuitive-urban-planners-we-would-all-benefit-from-living-in-their-care-full-cities-151365 [Last accessed: 1/15/2021]

On solving the inequality problem in cities

Here is another quick share of an article that is timely and relevant not just now but for years (maybe decades?) to come:

Grossman, D. (2020) “New Study Proposes a Mathematical Solution to Big Cities’ Inequality Problem,” Inverse, https://www.inverse.com/science/a-new-study-shows-why-building-more-equal-cities-could-save-lives?link_uid=15&utm_campaign=inverse-daily-2020-09-14&utm_medium=inverse&utm_source=newsletter [Last accessed: 9/15/2020]

I will just leave it here for future reference but to summarize, the article explains how cities should be planned or replanned based on the distribution or redistribution of certain facilities like hospitals, banks, schools, supermarkets, and parks. It argues that there is an optimum location for these in relation to where people live and work. If properly planned, travel distances and times can be significantly reduced.

On the importance of trees in the urban setting

Having lived in two other countries and traveled in many others, I have seen and experienced for myself examples of tree lined avenues and streets in the urban setting. And I am not talking about small cities but big ones like Tokyo and Singapore. I have gone to many of the big cities in Japan to be able to say that trees should have their place in the so-called urban jungle and the benefits of having them are tremendous. Here is a nice article recently published in The Guardian that explains the advantages of green streets:

Balch, O. (2019) “Green streets: which city has the most streets?”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/nov/05/green-streets-which-city-has-the-most-trees [Last accessed: 11/08/2019]

Philippine cities should heed the advice from the author and city and municipal planners should make sure that plans incorporate trees and other flora. Obviously, they are not just ornamental but rather should be indispensable components of our towns whether it is highly urbanized or not. I guess the same concepts apply also to the roadsides of our national highways. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) clearly had little or no regard for greenery; chopping down even the elder trees along the way of their road widening programs. As such, they have contributed to blight along these roads and it would take some time and effort to bring back what used to be tree-lined, canopied roads in many provinces.

On the future of city streets

Here is another article, this time on the future of city streets. I had been sharing many of the ideas related in the article in the Transportation Engineering courses that I handle including those pertaining to the Complete Streets concept and road diets. The article is good reading material for my students who need to get out of the box (so to speak) of traditional civil engineering thinking regarding highways and streets. That is, we need to do more people-centred rather than car-centric designs.

Davidson, J. (2018) “What Is a City Street? And What Will It Become?”. New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/01/what-is-a-city-street-and-what-will-it-become.html [Last accessed: 2/2/2018].

Here is a photo I took in Iloilo City a couple of years ago showing the bikeway along the Diversion Road. The facility then was underutilized but was supposed to represent, along with the Promenade along the river and the redevelopment of the old airport site in Mandurriao, the revitalisation of the city. Meanwhile, there have been little done for the downtown streets.

Iloilo City provides a good example of the need to have a more holistic transformation rather than have some exhibition or demonstration pieces for inclusive transport here and there.

Article on the need for ‘Context Cities’

Here is another good article I’ve found and read recently:

Wolfe, C.R. (2017) “Forget ‘Smart’ – We Need ‘Context Cities'”. Planetizen.com. https://www.planetizen.com/features/96310-forget-smart-we-need-context-cities (Last accessed: 12/21/2017).

Much has been said, I believe, about smart cities. I, too, have attended and even spoke (about Intelligent Transport Systems) at conferences or fora that had ‘smart cities’ as the central theme. Most talk about how technology can be used to further development and to address various transport and traffic problems. A lot of people tend to be excited when technology gets into the mix of things and yet few seem to be interested in a city seeking its true identity. And so the concept of ‘context cities’ over ‘smart cities’ become important as we need to contextualise what a city should be before we conclude that a technology push is the way to leapfrog into advancement. Perhaps the soul can be found and reconciled with and this is done through the context and not tech, which cannot replace history, heritage and culture that are distinct attributes of each city.

Some recommended references for sustainable transportation design

We conclude the month of October with the following recommended readings:

While these are guidelines and manuals developed and published in the United States, the principles and much of the content and context are very much applicable here.

As an additional reference, here is the latest version of functional classifications for streets that is supposed to be context-sensitive:

What if Manila decided to build its first subway back in the 1970s?

There is something about the counterfactual that is attractive to me. While I do not have formal training as an historian, I like to dabble in history and particularly about the what-could-have-been. It started with a book I read about counterfactual military history with various articles written by prominent historians who put forward scenarios including that on Thermopylae, Pearl Harbor, and the Vietnam War. I have found it a good exercise in analysis that is along the lines of chess analytics where one move may lead to another in response. Applying this to transport was quite a natural thing and we take a look at some information from the Feasibility Study for what was proposed in 1973 as the first subway line for Metropolitan Manila.

Proposed schedule for the 3-stage construction of RTR Line 1, most of which would have been a subway connecting Diliman, Quezon City with the University Belt in Manila and ultimately the airport in Paranaque.

Stage 1 between UP and FEU could have been operational as early as 1983 but typical delays could also have led to service starting in 1984 or even later. According to some critics of the LRT Line 1 that was built instead of the RTR Line 1, Marcos decided against the subway after being convinced by his advisers that the line could not be completed before Singapore finishes its own first line. A story is told that Marcos didn’t want Lee Kuan Yew to have the satisfaction of having Southeast Asia’s first mass transit line so the former opted for the elevated LRT instead. What really happened though was Singapore started operating its SMRT North-South Line in 1987, after what was also a long period of planning, decision-making and construction. It can be argued that the Philippines could still have completed at least 10 kilometers of the RTR Line 1 and at most 15 kilometers by 1987. Even a revolution in 1986 could not have doomed this project given its benefits that we could have reaped over the long-term.

Proposed stages of construction for the RTR Line No. 1 – whichever alternative could have led to the completion and inauguration of a substantial segment by 1983/84, well ahead of Singapore’s first line.

 

Artist’s conception of what an RTR Line 1 platform could have looked like. The trains look like a typical Tokyo Metro train. There’s some humor here as you can see the route map at right and the direction sign at top left referring to the Manira (Manila) Air Port.

As you can see in this rather simple (note: not included are discussions on the financial & economic aspects of this project) exercise, Metro Manila could have constructed the RTR Line 1 more than 3 decades ago. Even with the political upheavals in the Philippines during this period, it can be argued that Marcos and his version of the “best and the brightest” could have pulled it off and come up with the country and Southeast Asia’s first subway line. Most of the decision-making, planning and construction would have been during Martial Law when the Marcos had quite a firm grip on power. So he and his apologists have no excuse for this failure to potentially revolutionize transport and take Metro Manila to the next level in terms of commuting. That failure ultimately led to the current transportation situation we have in what has grown to become Mega Manila.