transport and development

Image credit: Salt Lake City TOD and Multi-modal hub by the IBI Group.

This article came out a month ago (Feb. 24, 06) in BusinessWorld's online edition. I've only included segments of the article -and all emphasis (italics) is mine:

Northrail woos Ayala for railway project

The North Luzon Railways Corp. (Northrail) has invited the Ayala group to look into the possibility of putting up malls that would serve as train terminals for the railways system in a bid to reduce government's cost for the project.

In an interview, Northrail President Jose Cortes, Jr. told BusinessWorld the company had pitched the idea to the Ayala group in a letter.

"We have conveyed it in writing and we're just waiting for them to reply. The letter was to inform them of our interest to join whatever activities they have along the way. If they set up a mall, we'll be willing to put the rail station in the same area to give them the market," Mr. Cortes said.

Northrail, which will initially run from Caloocan to Malolos, Bulacan, will have six stations for the first phase -- Caloocan, Valenzuela, Marilao, Bocaue, Guiguinto and Malolos.

Malls that will serve as terminals for the train system could benefit from the 164,743 passengers that Northrail will transport daily once it starts operations. Northrail said the number of passengers it will transport will later increase to 363,193 daily.

Mr. Cortes said Northrail is giving Ayala the option to choose which terminals it would want to put a mall in. "It would depend on what properties they have," he said.

Ayala Land, Inc. spokesman Jan Bengzon said the company is not as yet in the position to say if it is interested in the proposal. "All I can say is we're looking at it, as I'm sure other developers are," he said.

...The SM Group, meanwhile, has already signified interest in putting up malls in some areas that are designated for Northrail terminals.

"They are just waiting for the terms of reference," Mr. Cortes said.

Among others, the SM group would like to know if the Northrail stations would pass through its existing malls in the north. SM has malls in Valenzuela and Marilao, and is putting up a mall in Clark, which Northrail could later use as a terminal once the project is extended all the way to the Clark Special Economic Zone.

Mr. Cortes added mayors of the towns that Northrail will be passing through are also talking with the Gokongweis and other mall owners for the possibility of putting up malls that would serve as train stations.

Northrail is asking mall owners to build malls that would serve as terminals for the railways system to lower its costs. Mr. Cortes earlier said that if Northrail builds the terminals itself, it will only be able to allocate P5 million per station.
Well congratulations to Northrail for at least being creative about financing and seeing the potentials of the rail stations.

BUT the rail stations could be so much more.

First of all, how strategic is it to put the stations where the malls are? They should site the stations based on access and density (i.e. -how will people get to the stations, what towns should it serve) -and then invite the malls to locate.

We already made the mistake of locating MRT stations near malls rather than the logical pedestrian and multi-modal junctions. Let's not make that mistake with Northrail.

Transport access will decide development -i.e. build the trains and the malls will definitely follow.

Second, instead of just malls, they should create (say it with me folks): TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT, i.e-not just malls, please, but also housing. and offices.

Think of it, you could live in a station in Marilao -and take the train in to get to Fort Boni or the Makati CBD. Or you could build call centers on top of commercial centers (which we are already doing) on top of the train station. Add medium rise housing within 4/5 of a kilometer (about a 5 minute walking distance) and you have the beginnings of a transit village. Creating opportunities within a radius of .8Km will yield about 2M sq.m. of developable land. At a comfortable 20 dwelling units per acre - each station could provide more than 10,000 units of housing. At an optimal 50du/acre -stations could generate 25,000 housing units. (Not to mention at least 100,000 extra-riders and commercial customers from each station.)

And with office and commercial in the mix -there will be lots of opportunities for cross-subsidies, allowing the developer to either 1) offer below market rates for the housing or 2) set aside a large percentage of the housing for low income families. (And an opportunity to provide rental housing -to help solve the housing backlog.)

I'm sure the pro-forma would show a healthy balance sheet. HUDCC should get involved in this. And the mayors shouldn't just be looking at malls - they should consider rezoning around the stations to make them ready for transit oriented development, and create TOD friendly urban plans that encourage walking to the station.

Third, use the stations to spur development in existing centers - locate them near our old communities to open up investment possibilities in these old towns and cities.

Fourth, the stations are opportunities for civic infrastructure - for buildings that inspire and tell a story about what we want our country to be. Don't let the malls decide what the stations will look like (unless SM's concrete boxes or the Gokongwei malls fill your heart with civic pride).

The northrail investment is going to be huge and could be hugely strategic if the managers can think outside the box of trains-as-a-solution-to-congestion (i.e.- traffic reduction) and begin to think of the lines and nodes as opportunities to reshape both the built fabric of the city and the dynamics of our urban economies.

(For more information about what transit oriented development is, visit the Center for Transit Oriented Development site. For more on the benefits of TOD and strategies for implementation, visit the Rail-volution 2005 conference site to download the speaker presentations.)


working the street

"...our streets are being managed almost entirely for traffic flow, with neighborhoods and business districts buckling under increasing amounts of dangerous car and truck traffic. If we continue planning our streets for cars and traffic, we will get more cars and traffic; conversely, if we start planning our cities for people and places, we will get more people and places."

Quick, the above paragraph describes what city? Manila? L.A? Atlanta? -Wrong. It describes New York City. It's a quote from a campaign to re-imagine NYC streets. The New York City Streets Renaissance is a coalition campaigning for a redesign of NYC streets. They want to make the streets more livable -more oriented to the pedestrian.

Their goals:
  • Educate New Yorkers about potential transportation policy changes that will improve quality of life across New York City
  • Promote a rebalancing of this public space away from private vehicles and toward community needs
  • Demonstrate the widespread public support for reform on these issues
  • Tap the potential of New Yorkers to re-imagine their own streets
They also list down the characteristics of great streets:

Access & Linkages
  1. Easy to cross the street
  2. Sidewalks accommodate pedestrians and activity comfortably
  3. Multiple transportation options
Uses & Activities
  1. There are reasons to linger
  2. Ground floors are welcoming to passers-by
  3. Mix of resturants, stores and services
Comfort & Image
  1. Local and cultural identity is reflected
  2. Good seating, lighting, trees and other amenities
  3. Clear signage with local information
  1. People are inclined to gather
  2. Sense of pride and ownership
  3. Presence of children and seniors
Anyone up to forming a similar organization for Metro Manila?


further on rent control
(to vic, a fil-am in NYC)

Vic, a fil-am based in NYC, posted a long comment on my entry on rent control in the Philippines. He raises several points so I think his comment and my reply deserves a post of it's own.

Vic writes:

Hello, I'm Vic, a Fil/Am from New York City.I thought I'd just add some remarks. First, I own a few apartment buidings here in New York so I have some experience with rent control. I read your post with some mixed feelings. As a business man whose main objective is to ultimately make money, I HATE rent control. It definitely hinders my ability to turn a profit and selling a property with tenants under rent control is a deal breaker. But, as a person who comes from a modest backround, whose mother was a nurse and had to work two jobs to support the family and pay the rent, I can relate to those living under rent control.

There are facets to the rent control issue that you have left out. Here in NYC, for the last decade or so, gentrification of entire neighborhoods have taken place to the effect that middle income families have fled manhattan. A one bedroom apartment in a average neighborhood goes for about $2000 a month. If you are rich that is no problem but what if you are not? A family that is not rich must move further away from the city or the source of work, further putting a strain on the family income.

I also took some economics classes in college and back then I may have agreed on some of your points on looking to the market for solutions. However, I know now from experience that you cannot use the market economy as a guide line for setting public policy. We don't live in a vacuum, there are too many forces that manipulate supply and demand. One strategy for large companies here is to hold large numbers of apartments vacant. These apartments are held for some time until rents and values go up and up. You see the demand is always the same but they manipulate the supply and they make a ton of money by doing so.

Your ideas sound very much like "trickle down economics" or better known here in America as "Voodoo Economics" coined by George Bush Sr. It did not work here for the 12 years employed by Reagan and Bush and I do not think it will work there in the Philippines. The hope that the rich or property owners would reinvest into the economy utimately improving it and its positive effects would somehow trickle down to the poor is just too much to ask for.All it did was make the rich even richer. Lets face it a slum lord will never change. I personally know slum lords here in New York and there in the Philippines. Their properties are dilapidated for a reason other than lack of capital. They are content with the low rents they get even if they can get more if they improved their properties. If given more capital, they would just turn more properties into slums.Here in New York, slum lords are fined heavily for having sub-standard housing. But also given tax breaks and other concessions for building low income housing. For example for every skyscraper condo without rent control Donald Trump builds here in NYC he also has to build some housing units for the poor.

Rent control is a public policy created to help the poor stay in urban places like manila and new york. Somehow, I feel that throwing the poor unprotected into the market economy not to mention an unstable and corrupt government is too harsh. You have not addressed an answer for creation of low income housing except by saying "when supply normalizes" people may be able to get affordable housing. Even if I concede your ideas that market solutions will somehow create lower income housing, when will that take place? For the meantime, where shall the poor live? Your ideas may change the physical landscape of manila for the better but ultimately, as gentrification dictates all you will be doing is forcing the poor to relocate to further distances in the outskirts of the city not unlike leper colonies of old. My family and countless others lived under rent control and we were able to stay in manhattan. There, the salaries were higher and consequently enabled my parents to put me in the best schools. Without having the fruits of living in the city I would not be the success I am today.

Thanks, Vic. I have a few clarifications, then on to my points:

Although the two are often interchanged, "trickle down economics" (or more aptly, "trickle down effect") is the term generally used for a totally laissez-faire market approach that refuses to provide safety nets or redistributive policies. The assumption is that any wealth created in the economy will eventually trickle down to its poorest members. (Which John Kenneth Galbraith derided as "horse and sparrow" economics. i.e. ""if you feed enough oats to the horse, some will pass through to feed the sparrows.")

"Vodoo economics" was a term used to describe supply-side economics popularized in the 70's by Robert Mundell, Arthur Laffer, and Jude Wanniski -and ultimately implemented by the Reagan and Bush I administrations -which has become the doctrine of the conservative right. Basically, supply-siders believed (contrary to Keynesian -demand side economics) that "supply creates its own demand" - so putting in a tax cut gives money back to people which increases supply which creates demand.

I advocate neither. I believe in social welfare and policies for wealth redistribution. I lean towards the successes of the northern european welfare states and socialist governments. (i.e. -Nokia, a global capitalist success, is from Finland -where they pay the highest corporate and personal income taxes in the Eurozone. BUT, because of social programs - the daughter of the president of Nokia and the daughter of a janitor from Nokia -go to the SAME schools.) I also have deep theological reasons for believing in redistributive policies -so I am definitely more Keynes than von Hayek.

I also work for a non-profit that advocates, among other things, affordable housing initiatives, so I am keenly aware of the effects of runaway real estate prices on the working poor and the middle class. I have also worked alongside the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIC) and with the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) on the relationship between land use, density, zoning, and housing affordability. (Here's what the NMHC thinks about rent control. -The report is called "The High Cost of Rent Control." It's a short but really good read.)

As to your points, you are comparing apples to oranges. I cannot think of any place in Manila that is actually gentrifying. NYC's problem with gentrification is driven by the shortage of land (in Manhattan) and the increasing wealth of the city. It is also driven by homeowners and condo-conversions. Rent control benefits a small number of existing tenants - but denies affordable units to new lower income entrants. A 450 sq.ft. (41 sq.m.) studio in the Village rents out (to a new tenant) for about $1,300. Low income families, with service jobs in Manhattan, are forced to long commutes and live in the outer boroughs and outside the city. (NYC would not be able to sustain this without the Metro.)

Meanwhile, long time tenants (under rent control) pay under $300 for 850 sq.ft. apartments. In 1997, Carly Simon (yes, the Carly Simon) was paying $3,000 a month for an 11 bedroom rent-controlled apartment in Upper West Side. The market rate for that unit (in 1997) would've been $15,000. Her neighbor (in the same building) was paying $900 for a 7 bedroom unit.

Gentrification is happening in American cities because the white, upper middle class (mostly gen-xers or baby boomers) are moving back into the cities -which they previously abandoned (the white flight of the 60s and the 70s). The demand for housing in NYC is a mix of middle and low income families with jobs in the city - but also from a large cohort of single, fresh college grads earning more than $50K a year in finance industry jobs.

In comparison, the middle class is a very small portion of Metro Manila's population. Over 100,000 migrants enter Metro Manila every year -looking for jobs and housing. There is a growing backlog of 2 million housing units mostly for the urban poor. And where do the poor live in Metro Manila - in shanty towns and squatter colonies which are a response to this housing backlog. (By the way, they still pay rent in to live in those shanties.)

You say, "Rent control is a public policy created to help the poor stay in urban places like manila and new york."

Here's what the NHMC had to say about it (and bear in mind the NHMC is an advocate of affordable housing):
"Rent control is most often justified as an anti-poverty strategy. Yet, there is strong evidence that higher income households -- not the poor -- are the principal beneficiaries of most rent control laws. For example, a study of rent control in New York City found that rent-controlled households with incomes greater than $75,000 received nearly twice the average subsidy of rent-controlled households with incomes below $10,000. Another study concluded that rent control had the greatest effect on rents in Manhattan, the borough with the highest average income. Similarly, a study of rent control in Berkeley and Santa Monica found that the beneficiaries of controls in those communities are "predominately white, well-educated, young professionally employed and affluent," and that rent control had substantially increased the disposable income of these tenants while "exacerbating" the problems of low-income families. And in Cambridge, Massachusetts, residents of rent-controlled housing had higher incomes and higher status occupations on average than other residents of the city, including homeowners."
Clearly rent control in NYC has benefitted you and your family -and allowed you to get to where you are today. Kudos to you for that. Policy decisions though cannot be based on individual success stories, we have to look at the long view and the greater good. Study after study has shown the failures of rent control - and like I said earlier, economists everywhere - regardless of political stripe, agree on this matter. (NYT columnist Paul Krugman, writes about rent control and says of it, "That great sacred cow-- Rent Control-- is a textbook case of Economic stupidity.")

I agree that removing rent control on its own is not going to solve the housing backlog -but it will encourage reinvestment. It will allow the segment of the market to provide decent rental housing for below $10,000. In the long run, it will provide the working poor housing choice that is better than the shanty towns they are forced to live-in now.

Government also needs to step up by reconsidering its housing program -which, since its inception, has focused on home ownership. (More on this in a succeeding post.) They should build more rental units. The money we have spent on failed low-cost housing and relocation programs would have been better spent providing direct financial assistance (ala Section 8 housing vouchers) to would be renters.


living streets
dynamic cities

Serendipity? or confluence?

This one looks good. It's a conference staged by Ateneo's Cultural Heritage Studies Program and FEU's Center for Studies on the Urban Environment, sponsored by the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation and Instituto Cervantes.

March 16-17 (that's tomorrow!) at the FEU Campus.

"The Conference aims:

  1. To call attention to the Street as a a basic focus of concern in any project of urban revitalization;
  2. To articulate the complexity of issues surrounding street regeneration;
  3. To highlight the connection between built heritage and street regeneration; and
  4. To emphasize the catalytic role of urban universities in the regeneration of cities."
Good list of speakers. Click on the image for more info.

And if you want an instant replay: here's what I recently had to say about our streets:
  1. Streets not roads
  2. Measure for measure
  3. Streets as green infrastructure

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