livable cities

Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, Oregon

Cebu city's goal to be the most livable city in Asia by 2015 leads to the question: "What makes a city livable?" or more aptly, "What kind of city do we want to live in?"

Most people know what kind city they don't want to live in. (The quick answer: Metro Manila in its present state. See batjay's commentary on living the auto-driven life in the real O.C. for comparison.) Few really think about what kind of city they want -moreso how to get there.

Here's one of my favorites from the Smart Growth movement - it's a roadmap to getting to smart growth, but I think it also serves as a measure of livability. Not everything is completely applicable to Metro Manila but they serve as good take-off points for discussing the future of our city:

  1. Mix Land Uses. New, clustered development works best if it includes a mix of stores, jobs and homes. Single-use districts make life less convenient and require more driving.

  2. Take Advantage of Existing Community Assets. From local parks to neighborhood schools to transit systems, public investments should focus on getting the most out of what we’ve already built.

  3. Create a Range of Housing Opportunities and Choices. Not everyone wants the same thing. Communities should offer a range of options: houses, condominiums, affordable homes for low income families, and “granny flats” for empty nesters.

  4. Foster “Walkable,” Close-Knit Neighborhoods. These places offer not just the opportunity to walk—sidewalks are a necessity—but something to walk to, whether it’s the corner store, the transit stop or a school. A compact, walkable neighborhood contributes to peoples’ sense of community because neighbors get to know each other, not just each other’s cars.

  5. Promote Distinctive, Attractive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place, Including the Rehabilitation and Use of Historic Buildings. In every community, there are things that make each place special, from train stations to local businesses. These should be protected and celebrated.

  6. Preserve Open Space, Farmland, Natural Beauty, and Critical Environmental Areas. People want to stay connected to nature and are willing to take action to protect farms, waterways, ecosystems and wildlife.

  7. Strengthen and Encourage Growth in Existing Communities. Before we plow up more forests and farms, we should look for opportunities to grow in already built-up areas.

  8. Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices. People can’t get out of their cars unless we provide them with another way to get where they’re going.More communities need safe and reliable public transportation, sidewalks and bike paths.

  9. Make Development Decisions Predictable, Fair, and Cost-Effective. Builders wishing to implement smart growth should face no more obstacles than those contributing to sprawl. In fact, communities may choose to provide incentives for smarter development.

  10. Encourage Citizen and Stakeholder Participation in Development Decisions. Plans developed without strong citizen involvement don’t have staying power.When people feel left out of important decisions, they won’t be there to help out when tough choices have to be made.

In future posts, I'll discuss each item to see how we might apply it to Metro Manila.

Image credit: Project for Public Spaces.


Ian said...

What is a livable home? For a Filipino or a poor Filipino fellow I might add. A Livable home means anything that might be considered a shelter. Box of Cartons, Yero and old makeshift homes from patch-up wood.

For me a livable city should have livable homes/houses. That's why people consider Metro Manila too small for the growing population therefor not livable enough for everyone.

carlosceldran said...

We should do something about that growing population then. Having too many people is really the best way to ruin any party. Free birth control for anyone who wants it I say.

benjiedlp said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Urbano dela Cruz said...


I agree with you that livable cities should have livable homes. what most people don't get is that squatting (informal settlers) is actually a solution to a basic city problem: how do you get housing you can afford? The regular market forces have failed to provide adequate housing -so the informal market comes up with a solution: shanty towns. (This problem is shared by all 3rd world megacities -and is a problem ALL growing cities go through at one point or another in their history.)

The solutions we've been implementing (relocations, evictions, etc.) don't solve the problem -and in fact often make it worse.

I think the question we should ask is: how do we get a housing system in that allows anyone to afford some kind of housing -and will allow them to improve their own conditions so they move up to better housing?


i agree population growth is a problem -but even if we hold down birthrate, urbanization will still mean increasing city populations.

demographics (at least in the 20-30 year horizon) is on our side as birthrate declines to below replacement rates as populations urbanize.

same point i would make as above: what do we need to tweak in the market (what kind of incentives can we provide) so the market will meet the demand for cheaper -but "livable" housing?

Sidney said...

You have to raise the income of the majority of the people. I guess food, cloths, education comes first for a lot of people. If they already need to struggle to eat once a day a decent meal how can you expect people to be able to get decent homes?

Urbano dela Cruz said...


believe me - squatters actually pay rent (some large shantytowns are actually run by syndicates -some by the landlord) - and like you said, given the basket of goods they have to purchase, they can't spend very much for housing.

our current relocation programs provide middle-class style housing - and cut the cost by choosing sites that are hard to reach -and make it unfeasible for the relocated to get to their jobs.

ownership of the actual sites they are living in - provision of services (water, sewage, electricity, access roads, drainage) have actually produced better results than relocation programs.

the problem is one of volume: with over 250,000 homes needed each year just to cope with the influx and no market incentives to supply the lowest rung of the price demand, the only solution is life in shantytowns.

Robert Neurwith has an interesting book called Shadow Cities that explores life in squatter communities around the globe.

we could use more innovative programs for solving the housing problem. see for instance Architecture for Humanity.

if we integrate housing solutions to other urban development programs (i.e. - LRT stations, or FX taxi stations) maybe we'll have a better chance at hacking the problem.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

see also the solutions coming from The Barefoot College

chiqui said...

Carlos, tell THAT to the mayor. He bans distribution of condoms in health centers and encourages more children - it's become like an underground drug.
I think a liveable city is a relatively clean city w/trees (not overly concretized), good sewage system, clean water, sidewalks for walking, less jeeps (too many jeeps - not enough passengers). Also, maybe educate people to be more responsible & accountable for their communities. Give them some kind of pride

Urbano dela Cruz said...


that's what you get when personal theology/ideology gets in the way of policy. (...not unique to our country. can you say "George W. Bush" -?)

I like your vision of a liveable city - especially a city where citizens are "more responsible & accountable for their communities."

Bubbles said...

sometimes i think if it's just laziness that's why we have cabs to pedicabs and one can take and alight a jeep/bus at any point. but then seeing and actually feeling how draining, dirty and dangerous it is to walk, i get confused whether it is behavior shaping the environment or the other way around.

Urbano dela Cruz said...


surprisingly enough we (i.e. -we humans) are very affected by our environment. we instinctively avoid places that we "threatened" in - like walking next to very fast roadways.

and the areas we avoid become "no man's land" that then suffers further from the lack of attention.

the least used part of the house is also usually the dirtiest.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

avoid places that we feel "threatened" in

Ian said...

I just would like to share this story when we went to a squatters area inside the vicinity of BF Homes. It was a religion class' social work trip that landed us there. Suprising enough its the stories that each and everyone shared after the experience that made much impact on us.

Some squatters we're livable as in concrete homes with windows and rooms. There was one in which the floor was only a plywood and when you go down from 1-3 feet it's the cooking area. (The gruesome story was the mom was cooking in a big pan so she left the house with the flame of wood still burning. Unfortunately her infant crawled off from the edge of the plywood and fell in the pan and died.) Sad story.

On the lighter side one of our classmates was being sold a PS2. A family there brought out a digital camera to take some shots before we left. So there not that poor really. I just don't know why their there.

On another trip we went to Guadalupe Viejo in Makati. Rumors from the people living in the Urban Squatter Area were the owners wanted them out of their land and they have caused at least 2 incidents of burning down the houses so they would leave.

chiqui said...

I left a comment after your comment on Torn's blog :) Speaking of personal theology.. what about Pat Robertson's suggestion of assasinating the Venezuelan president??? Unbelievable... this coming from an "evangelist". So yes, people like Atienza not surprising.

Sidney said...

Education, education and again education.
Many problems (birth control, responsability for the community, dirty politics, etc.)will be solved if people become "critical" people. Then the pope, the president or the mayor can tell whatever they want BUT nobody will listen anymore to them...

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Sorry for the late response folks.


I have to agree with you that there is a lot of buying power in our squatter areas. (Was if COURAGE that claimed 60% of their members -government workers -lived in informal settlements?) It only goes to show that housing costs are too high for lower segment of the market.


will respond in Tornandfrayed.


I agree that good education (particularly good education for women) will upgrade the lot of our people -but in the LONG RUN. -i.e., a college degree will get you a better job and give you more in savings, etc.

I think it is intellectual chauvinism for us to think that people live in shantytowns because they are not "critical thinkers."

Urbano dela Cruz said...


forgive, I misread your last comment (wrong context)

I agree, education will create more critical thinkers -who will be free from living by edict. despite the bad infrastructure, urban living (which forces people to live in heterogenous communities) seems to contribute to freer thinking. e.g. -urbanized women have more favorable attitudes to contraception.

that being said, the questions as far as I'm concerned are:

how do we educate so we produce citizens?

how do we use educational infrastructure to improve our cities?

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

"how do we educate so we produce citizens?"

"how do we use educational infrastructure to improve our cities?"

the problems hounding the national government is an opportunity in times of crisis - for well-meaning local governments to have a handle in improving basic education.

this is precisely what our city government and synergeia - a national association of like-minded local education reformers - are advocating. and the local school boards are the logical starting point.

but still, there is much work to be done here.

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