Expanding Mass Transit in Metro Manila

NEDA's given the greenlight to MRT-7. The pricetag? $3.3B, but that doesn't all go to rail:
The scheme calls for a 20-kilometer light rail system integrated with a 20-kilometer highway that will link the North Triangle area in Quezon City with San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan province.

“So all in all, this will be a 40-kilometer project and will come at no cost to the government (since it would be funded through the BOT scheme),” Santos explained.

The rail and road network is expected to cost as much as $1.3 billion, while the commercial and residential developments that are expected to rise along the route would cost another $2 billion.
Wait a minute. The "commercial and residential developments that are expected to rise along the route" will cost $2B and is part of the BOT?

Like MRT-8, this seems to be more of a real estate deal than a public infra project.

I'd like to see how all that "development" is going to be distributed. I'm betting most of it will be along the 20 kilometer highway, NOT along the 20-kilometer rail route. So much for leveraging the transit investment. More like the investors are leveraging government funds for their investments.

I have not seen any detailed plans, although they've given the general locations of the 14 stations, we do need to pay close attention to how these stations are designed and sited. For example: will the locations make it easy for commuters to transfer to connecting jeepneys? (To get to UP from the University Station? or to Ateneo from the Tandang Sora station?)

What will also be important is how the local government and the LTO respond to the plans for the stations. Quezon City should re-zone around the stations to get more density and more riders. The LTO and LTFRB should reconsider jeepney routes to feed the stations.

I would have much rather a Bus Rapid Transit project in place of light rail. The $1.2 billion (for the railway) would have brought at least 60 kilometers of BRT. Plus, a BRT system would have allowed the existing transport franchise holders (jeeps and buses) to possibly participate in the venture.

blinders or blindspot

Buses and traffic discipline in Metro Manila

These were my comments on iReport's "Too many buses, too many agencies clog Edsa": (hat tip to Eugene for leading me to the article)
Margie Grey's PCIJ article on the travails of the public bus system in Metro Manila was (characteristically) well researched and gives a quick overview of the confusing governance of traffic numbers involved in the PUB system. Thank you, Margie, for pointing out that private vehicles outnumber PUBs 9 to 1. A viable traffic solution must involve reducing private car use -and that can only be accomplished by providing more efficient public transport.

Margie's article does fail to account for the role of the economic model of PUBs in the behavior of bus drivers. I believe this less an oversight of the reporter than it is a serious blindspot among our policy makers.

We seem to have taken the "boorish behavior" of buses on EDSA as a given, taken it as function of (at best) a lack of driver education, or (more often_ as a lack of discipline among bus drivers. But bus drivers behave the way they do, drive the way they do because of the economic drivers (no pun intended) behind their occupation.

The "boundary" or commission system ("12 percent commission if daily earnings are P10,000 or less and 14 percent if earnings are more than P10,000") dictates the driving behavior as surely as confusing layers of governance on EDSA.

As I wrote before:

The Boundary System is basically a vehicle rent system. The driver is "hired" by the transport operator, to run and maintain his jeep, bus, or FX cab. The driver can run as many trips within the boundary period (standard is 12 hours) as he wants but he basically has to pay the "boundary fee" (usually, daily) to the owner -and his source of income is whatever he makes over and above the boundary fee. The driver covers the cost of gasoline and minor repairs.

The boundary system brings a logic to earning money that shapes the driving habits of the renting drivers. If the driver only earns above the boundary, then logic dictates that he must get as many passengers as he can in as many trips as possible . The driver also benefits by having the vehicle on the road as many days as possible - as repairs and shutdowns mean no income for the day.

So, a driver will:
  1. soak up passengers by basically waiting as long as he can in a high traffic/passenger volume area and then
  2. speed up to the next high volume pickup point to soak in more passengers.
  3. he will also see other public utility vehicles plying the route as competition so waiting in a line does not make much sense,
  4. he will try to get ahead of the line (usually by doubling up on the pickup lane) so he can be closer to the "source" of passengers and so
  5. he won't be tied down on the line and can speed up to the next destination.
  6. It also means that shorter trips are preferred to longer trips and
  7. vehicle downtime and thus vehicle maintenance is kept to a minimum (=inefficient engines, =more pollution).
This system is behind the traffic chokepoints at the major junctions and intersections of our cities. (I've written extensively about how our disorganized public transport system has shaped the built fabric and the quality of life in our metropolis.)

We've thrown good money after bad in countless traffic control and traffic discipline systems to try to get the "boorish behavior" under control. The OBR is just the latest incarnation (remember Oscar Orbos' sticker system?).

I find it amusing that Director Lantion thinks that getting buses to compete on "brand" will be the best approach to getting better traffic behavior from our PUBs.

Changing the economic model - to a salary based system, where the driver's income is NOT based on how many passengers he can pick up, will change driver behavior overnigh and will restore sanity to flow of PUBs on EDSA even without the expensive RFID systems.

Benjamin de la Pena
a.k.a -Urbano dela Cruz

Image credit: EDSA Traffic
by Mon Solo



So, this is what happens when you're so surrounded by artists that you take them for granted: somebody else claims the crown.

This, from the Jakarta Post:

Festivals promote Jakarta as regional cultural capital

Behind the visible poverty, endless traffic jams and nauseating polluted air, Jakarta has hidden treasures that are unrivaled by other big cities in the country, and possibly even in Southeast Asia.

They go together to make up the city's arts and culture scene.


The Urban Festival, a two-day festival in late August, involved a list of events, mostly beginning with the word "urban": Urban Distro, Urban Photo Exhibition, Urban Dancing, Urban Tattoo, Face Painting, Local Comics Exhibition and many others.


"As far as I know, Jiffest, for example, was the best in Southeast Asia. Last year, it attracted 63,000 enthusiasts with funding of US$500,000. Meanwhile, the Bangkok Film Festival cost US$5 million and attracted only 23,000 people. And I don't even want to compare Jiffest with festivals in Singapore or Manila; they're not in the same league," said Marco Kusumawijaya, an urban planning expert and chairman of the Jakarta Arts Council.

Marco added that although Jakarta lagged behind Singapore in infrastructural development, the Indonesian city was awash with artists.

He complained, however, that the festivals received little support from the government.

"Actually, the more independent a festival, the better it is. However, the city should see such festivals as investments. They attract visitors who spend money in hotels and restaurants in the city," Marco said. "The city administration should set targets in return for its financial support; a festival gets some funding but has to attract so many people from abroad, for example." (emphasis added)

Any chance we can direct some of that BOP income to encouraging the arts?

Image credit: photo by the incomparable
Andy Maluche


the city of god

Psalm 46
(The Message)

A Song of the Sons of Korah

    1-3 God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.
    We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
    Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains.
    Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

    4-6 River fountains splash joy, cooling God's city,
    this sacred haunt of the Most High.
    God lives here, the streets are safe,
    God at your service from crack of dawn.
    Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten,
    but Earth does anything he says.

    7 Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

    8-10 Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
    He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
    Bans war from pole to pole,
    breaks all the weapons across his knee.
    "Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    above politics, above everything."

    11 Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995,
1996, 2000, 2001, 2002
by Eugene H. Peterson

Merry Christmas everyone!

Image credit: photo swiped from
Sidney's excellent series on children



Innovation and Cities

Those folks preparing the National Innovation Strategy* could do well to read the reports on innovation and cities from the U.K.'s NESTA (National Endowment for Science and Technology).

They should pay particular interest to the Innovation and the city (pdf) report and the Leading Innovation (pdf) report.

The conclusions sync right into our discussion of the role of cities and the critical role of transportation in building a competitive economy:

Here's an extract from the conclusions and recommendations:

Urban assets play a critical and under-appreciated role in supporting innovative activity

The urban skills base and specialist labour markets are the most important of these urban assets. Transport connectivity is also important as it enables accessibility – which, in turn, increases the rate of collaboration and networking. Policymakers should:
  • Invest in the continued recovery and growth of large urban cores, particularly in transport infrastructure, skills and housing.

  • Make skills, transport, physical infrastructure, property and housing key planks of innovation strategies.

  • Recognise the links between the built environment, spatial clustering and networking.

  • Use design to influence the sustainability and development of spatial clusters.

Could someone help me get that on the agenda?

*-which they so "creatively" dubbed Filipinnovation -hence my riff on the headline of this post


viva voce

So it's been a busy week. (I miss the work lethargy of Christmas in the Philippines.)

I got interviewed about my project on one of my favorite radio shows/ podcasts. You can download or listen to the show here.

This was the blurb:

Benjamin dela Peña and Bill Fulton are collaborating to provide tools for communities to use to figure out step-by-step how they achieve smart growth. Benjamin is the Smart Growth Leadership Institute's Associate Director for Implementation. Bill is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southern California.
Our interview is towards the latter half of the show. Carol Colleta's interview of Paul Krutko is really good, too.
Paul Krutko is attempting to re-make San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley with smart growth from his office of economic development. His efforts come at the insistence of company CEOs who say their employees' time is too valuable to be spent in traffic.
That bears repeating:
"His efforts come at the insistence of company CEOs who say their employees' time is too valuable to be spent in traffic." (emphasis added)
Don't you think your time is too valuable to be spent in traffic?

(And if my voice doesn't grate on you, you can listen to a much longer interview with Edi Sian's Pinoy Post earlier this year. I reprise most of my "sirang plaka" ("broken record" -that's vinyl speak for you, cd generation) issues during the interview. )


measures of success

These were my comments on Dave Llorito's latest post on the "success" of the MRT and how changing the pricing could decongest it and reduce the required subsidies:

Here's the news: very, very few mass transit systems in the world are profitable. I think only HK's metro and Tokyo's system make money. Even NYC's MTA is short on cash. Most systems are heavily subsidized.

Why? Because the governments account for the externalities of faster transport for workers, which, in theory, equals more productivity.
If the problem is bad service due to congestion -could it first be solved by more trains and more frequent trips? Of course, that does raise the operating costs.

That said, i'd trade you an increase in fares to cover actual operating costs of the mrt
IF you're willing to raise road and gasoline taxes to cover total environmental costs of driving (not just the road maintenance costs).

Better management, yes. recovering the true costs, sure -as long as you account for the public goods generated and as long as you even up the playing field by asking road users to pay the true costs of driving, too.

Oh, and I'm for variable pricing. maybe a two-tiered system (or a third for weekends).

One other way we can look at leveraging our light rail investments and paying for the operating costs is to use value capture strategies:
Increase the property tax for properties within a certain perimeter around the train stations (say 2/3 of a kilometer). -they benefit from the pedestrian traffic and location so why not capture that value?

Increase the real estate taxes around the stations -and while you're there, increase the densities and height limits (floor area ratios) of the zone, too.
You'll get more housing and more office space next to the train stations -making the train even more convenient.

And, oh, pair that up with a program to subsidize not just the rail, but part of the housing units generated by the increased density around the transit station. to encourage more people to live within walking distance of the transport investment.

Image credit: by vertex
from the Skyscraper Forum



If you've ten minutes to spare, watch this short video from StreetsBlog featuring Bogota's Ciclovia program.

Every Sunday (and during holidays), from 7 am to 2 pm the city sets up 130 kilometers of roads and reserves them for biking, jogging, running and skating. It's a weekly festival that gets people out and exercising and interacting and just enjoying the city.

Clarence Eckerson shot the video and he says "Ciclovía was simply one of the most moving experiences I have had in my entire life (no pun intended)."
"What immediately comes to mind when I think back to our trip were the ubiquitous smiles on everyone’s faces wherever we went. Nearly 1.8 million Colombians out using the Ciclovia and Recreovia to de-stress, get healthy, and connect personally with their fellow citizens. Young or old, rich or poor, pedestrian or cyclist - in Bogotá everyone loves the Ciclovia."

We pinoys, the "fiesta people of asia," can so do this. Think of the old events in Baywalk, multiplied across the city.

We don't have to do it weekly. We can start with a few weekends in January when the weather is a bit cooler. Or we could do it in February to commemorate the first EDSA.

If not EDSA, then maybe could do this for the whole stretch of Commonwealth Ave. and connect it all the way to Quezon Boulevard and the Welcome rotonda.

Anyone have a line to Mayor Belmonte?

Check out more resources from Walk and Bike for Life (a site I'm sure Tutubi will appreciate).

P.S. - check out the segment about recruiting for "Streetwatch" by marketing it like "Baywatch."


cars vs. brt

(V.O.: ...and now we return you to our regular programming.)

I've illustrated this before, but if you need more convincing, try this very short video by Carlos Pardo of the Sustainable Urban Transport Project. (Via Richard Layman's Rebuilding Place in Urban Space.)

Seen it? Like it? Share it by emailing this link.

Ready to come up with the standard excuses of why this can't work in Metro Manila? Go ahead, throw them at me.

Btw, notice how you can fit a BRT on to an 8 lane road?


ilang tulog na lang

Continuing our rant: this via, Ang Tagal Naman.


sobra na, tama na

(I know. I know. I'm ranting. I'll be over it soon.)



The Edushi interface, showing Shanghai riverfront (the Bund)

Detail from Shanghai map

(Eugene, have you seen this one?)

Forget getting Metro Manila on GoogleEarth or GoogleMaps, LiveSearch or even OpenStreetMap. Call in the Chinese and ask them to put our metropolis on Edushi.com (Ch.).

Found them via Digital Urban.

The graphic detail is nothing short of delicious. Check out the map of Shanghai. More cities listed here (if you can read Chinese).

Of course it also helps that the orthogonal view looks like it's straight out of SimCity.

The big advantage China has is that the military, for security reasons, keeps full autocad models of ALL the cities (don't ask me how I know), so it's easy to roll something like this out.

Chinese cities are also addicted to scale models and nearly every planning office will have a whole hall dedicated to a scale model.

Makes my mapgeek mouth water.

new rules

New Rule #1:

If you are planning a military putsch but don't have the balls to try to take the queen in the palace, don't take a hotel. Try to take a significant installation, like say a petroleum depot or a TV station.

Why a hotel? So you have comfy beds and a kitchen staff? How soft are the underbellies of these adventurists? Why does it always have to be a hotel?

New Rule #2:

They should be frog marched out of there in hoods and chainlinks. No pussyfooting. No media plays. You wanted to be "heroes?" You wanted to "take a stand," suffer the consequences.

If they want to run for public office, they can use their frog march pictures.

New Rule #3:

You know they want to topple the government, why negotiate? Send in the damned sharpshooters and take them out. If we're going to have a siege, then let's have a SPLENDID SIEGE! Blood on both sides. Let's see how popular adventurism gets in the barracks after they shoot each other.

What are you worried about? The national image? The morons already took it down.

New Rule #4:

No more namby-pamby pardons. No more.



This, from yesterday's BusinessWorld Online*

RP positions as region’s innovation hub

THE PHILIPPINES is positioning itself as Asia’s innovation hub that can be competitive with the rest of the world, by institutionalizing a culture of innovation across multiple sectors.

The country’s positioning strategy is embodied in an 18-page document summarizing the country’s National Innovation Strategy which was launched yesterday at the country’s first National Innovation Summit, a product of months of collaboration among government, business, academe and civil society.

The document, entitled "Filipinnovation," was presented by summit organizers yesterday to President Gloria M. Arroyo, who symbolically launched the strategy with a 3D presentation similar to popular game Second Life. "Filipinnovation" is also the brand for the country as it aims to compete with Asian neighbors and other regions.

(note: "3D presentation similar to popular game Second Life" -really?)

"‘Filipinnovation’ brings forward a distinct brand for the Philippines as an Asian innovation hub, different [from] — yet as competitive as — its Asian neighbors and striving to be at part with leading innovation regions such as North America and Europe," the document read.

At least you've got to hand it to the proponents for innovating a monicker. "Filipinnovation" -takes a while to get it to roll off your tongue.

There is a "four-point national innovation strategy " that focuses on
  • strengthening human capital, from primary to advanced learning;
  • supporting business incubation and acceleration efforts;
  • regenerating the innovation environment mainly through policy; and
  • promoting a culture of innovation by upgrading the Filipino mindset
So what do I think is missing? Anyone, anyone? (Hint: I talk about it a lot in this blog.)

CITIES! You cannot be a "hub" without thinking of the physical. Place is important to culture and to innovation.

The data is clear on this: cities are centers of innovation. So if you want to promote a "culture of innovation, " you've got to work on your cities.

Here's a pdf (52 kb) copy of a report by Forman, Goldfarb and Greenstein on why innovation happens better in cities. They show that:
"establishments located in large urban areas innovate as if they face fewer constraints and have lower costs. We also find a symmetric role for internal capabilities: establishments that are in firms with a greater number of IT personnel invested in WEI technology more frequently, as did those with prior experience with related non-Internet applications. Overall, we conclude that the marginal contribution of internal capabilities to investment and co-invention in a process innovation is lower for establishments in cities than for establishments elsewhere."
Cities also increase productivity. CEOsforCities cites this article in Psychology Today that says:

For every doubling in city size, there's a 14 to 27 percent increase in productivity per worker, and psychologists and others are trying to explain why. They believe the gains "can be linked to having more and different people to meet, and more meeting places—parks, coffee shops, parties, or simply the sidewalk...

"City dwellers have more places to hang out, and they tend to know more people. Meredith Rolfe, a political sociologist at Oxford, studies social networks through large-sample surveys. While there are only small variations in the numbers of close friends people report having, she's found that 'acquaintance networks'—the so-called 'weak ties' that are most helpful in finding a job or stock tip—range wildly in size, from 500 to 10,000, depending in part on methodology and in part on whether a person lives in a city."

Promoting a culture of innovation is the right goal, but to think it's all about "changing culture" is mistaken. Culture arises from place and interaction. The culture of innovation grows best in the city.

Pay attention to place first, create the scene -and then the magic happens.

(Also check out this excellent presentation from Joseph Cortright on why cities should focus on innovation as a driver for growth.)

* -Btw, BW's finally seen the light and their online content is available for free!

Image credit: "Just full of ideas" by Cayusa


So, we're the 19th most expensive city for expatriates:

Manila has been found to be Asia’s 19th costliest city for expatriates, according to the latest twice-yearly survey by human resources firm ECA International that surveyed 39 select cities in the region.

Jakarta was the 11th most expensive place and Bangkok was in 18th place, while Hanoi landed in 32nd place — more expensive than Kuala Lumpur which was in 33rd place and just a notch above the Laotian capital Vientianne.

Islamabad was the least expensive among the Asian cities surveyed at number 39, while Seoul was judged Asia’s costliest city for expatriates.

We're cheaper than Jakarta and Bangkok, but more expensive than Hanoi or K.L. (What makes KL so cheap?)

As far as Asia goes, we're the 29th most expensive city to live in, but we're 191st world wide.

How do they compute the cost of living?
ECA International’s cost of living indices are calculated based upon surveys carried out annually in March and September using a basket of day-to-day goods and services. The data used above refers to ECA’s September 2007 survey.

Certain living costs such as accommodation, utilities (electricity, gas, water costs), car purchase and school fees are not included in the survey. Such items can make a significant difference to expenses but are usually compensated for separately in expatriate packages.

This comparison of cost of living was calculated on a base composed of various developed countries and is used to reflect an international lifestyle. Other indices available from ECA reflect specific city-to-city comparisons, and different levels of shopping efficiency.

I bet you it's the cost of electricity that's driving our rank up because we're still low in the list as far as the Bigmac index is concerned.

the case for the pedicab

So, this is my first post on The City Fix. Recognize parts of it? -UDC

Pedicabs like this one above are found throughout the world.
Photo by drs2biz from Flickr.

To celebrate World Town Planning Day, the Ontario Planners Institute called on planners, towns and cities to “start planning ahead for a future where the car is a thing of the past.” Although it’s difficult to imagine a post-car city, we only have to look back to recent history to realize that cities are fluid, transforming over time, often based on the dominant form of transport. Because most of our cities emerged during the age of the automobile, it should come as no surprise that most of our cities have been shaped for and by the car. But this wont always be the case. The rising cost of oil and the environmental and human cost of congestion and air pollution is turning the logic of car-dominated cities on its head. As we explore options for a post-car future, it’s instructive to turn to the developing world, where cars still haven’t flooded the streets, and examine one of the most ubiquitous and green-friendly forms of transportation: the pedicab.

In our automobile driven cities, the pedicab occupies the bottom rung of the transportation ladder, frowned upon by both rich and poor alike. Where buses are seen as undisciplined nuisances with which cars must begrudgingly share the road, the pedicab is viewed as a backwards mutant not even deserving of the asphalt. Even pollution spewing autorickshaws and tuktuks are preferred to the pedicab. Some even refer to pedicabs as “road roaches” because they scamper and scatter in and out of traffic like cockroaches in the light. But as far as green cred goes, all other modes of transport pale in comparison to these human powered vehicles. Pedicabs generate no emissions and produce no waste, unlike cars and buses, with their heavy metals from used batteries that leech into the soil.

As far as low barriers to entry, the pedicab business is one the Bottom of the Pyramid folks at Nextbillion would love. You could literally buy hundreds of pedicabs for the price of one bus. Plus all building materials can be sourced locally, so there’s no need to import spark plugs or oil filters or engines. What’s more, there’s no need to buy oil that supports oppressive petrocracies. And the technology is so simple that self-repair is the rule rather than the exception. Bike infrastructure can help power local economies, as it has in Portland, Oregon, where an entire industry revolving around bicycling has emerged.

Pedicabs are unsafe only when they mix with other vehicles, affording little protection to the driver and the riders. And perhaps that’s the design challenge that our cities and city planners could solve. It is clear that our streets were not designed for pedicabs which must vie for a slice of the road with fast moving buses, trucks and SUVs. But what if cities built a city-wide green network anchored on shared roads for bikes, pedicabs, and pedestrians? Cities could set apart secondary and tertiary roads and designate them as green ways. They could redesign the road right-of-way to be friendlier to pedestrians, bikes and pedicabs. We could create a modified version of the Woonerf street to build alternative transport infrastructure that’s friendly to pedicabs.

The most bike friendly cities in the world are leading the way, engineering their streets to encourage biking. But these western cities are building bike infrastructure only for single riders. Perhaps the global south can lead the way with public transport built on human-powered service. The pedicab is the perfect place to start!

(Cross posted from: The City Fix)




Is that why I only have a dozen readers?


(Watch out when you do the readability link. They throw in an ad into the code.)



Eugene sent me a link to this project.

The mission of 19.20.21 is a multi-year, multimedia initiative to collect, organize and package information on population's effect regarding urban and business planning and its impact on consumers around the world. This 5+ year initiative will deliver results via 5 channels: online, television, print, exhibits and seminars. This project will include 10 worldwide partners and appropriate affiliates.

Here's to hoping that Metro Manila gets into the final 19.


city fix

So, I've been accepted as a contributor to Embarq's The City Fix blog. They'll run my first post next week.

The BIG IDEA behind The City Fix is:

"...cities do not have to be chaotic, contaminated, and clogged with cars. With the appropriate planning and design, cities can accommodate the current influx of new people while also improving the quality of life for their residents. By focusing on the intersection of transportation, design, environmental science, and urban planning, this blog examines the myriad ways that cities can adapt and ensure that the current wave of urbanization is good for humanity and the environment." (emphasis mine-udc)

Which is exactly the gospel I want to preach to Metro Manila.

EMBARQ, a leading international resource on sustainable transport, is a project of the World Resources Institute.


something to think about

This one from Robert Neurwith's SquatterCities blog:

Mega Cities expert Janice Perlman makes a profound statement:

"The international funding agencies of investment institutions need to give more to urban development and less to rural development," said Perlman. "I’ve argued that the people who come to the city [and live in squatter developments] are the cream of the crop with the highest ambitions and aspirations. If given the chance, they would build middle-class communities. You can’t blame people for polluting the watershed if you don’t provide them with water infrastructure."

Perlman advocates integrating squatter developments into the surrounding neighborhoods. Rather than demolishing these self-made communities, she recommends connecting them to the city’s infrastructure by incorporating paved streets, steps, plazas and new facades as well as offering services such as clean water, sewage connections and electricity. If visually they’re more like the surrounding neighborhoods, these needy areas will be more likely to interact with the middle class nearby, she said.
Of course we've been doing piecemeal sites and services upgrading since the 70s but it's only lately that the World Bank has realized that the urban poor merit as much attention as the rural poor.

Let me repeat Perlman's thesis:

"the people who come to the city [and live in squatter developments] are the cream of the crop with the highest ambitions and aspirations."

Think about it. Think about the entrepreneurial mindset required to leave a farm and try your luck in the city. You can argue that a hand-to-mouth existence in subsistence farms gives a lot of reasons for decamping to the city. Still, it requires a lot of courage and more importantly, an ability to imagine a different future to take that leap.

I bet that leap takes as much courage as risking a future working in another country to provide a better future for your family.

Maybe we need to rethink our biases about squatters.

Image credit: Jubilee by sendusout

what BRT looks like

If you've got ten minutes, here's a good intro on what BRT can do for a megacity like Mexico.

It comes across as a little bit of hard sell but it could just be lost in translation.

Can you imagine this in our megacity?


step one

So we've talked about how more people in Metro Manila take public transportation than drive private cars; about how prioritizing public transit, focusing on moving people, is a vastly more efficient use of our roads than just working on moving vehicles; and about how our public transit woes are tied down to the boundary system that governs the business.

The common theme in the discussion about those posts was that we really need the political will to get past the vested interests of the transport unions, to transcend the myopia of the traffic managers and to get national or local governments to pay attention.

So how do we build up the political will?

As the maxim goes, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."

For too long the discussion of transportation issues have been nothing more than the back and forth between vendors (operators and drivers) and regulators about the right fare level or about who has traffic authority over buses and jeepneys. No one seems to be looking out for the rights of the passengers.

Our investments in mass transit seem to be all about big business interests, or clearing traffic for car riding elite or speculative real estate deals. While the public winds up with high cost projects with badly located and badly designed stations and disconnected rail networks. Who speaks for the customers and the taxpayers?

Who speaks for the people who have no option but to take public transit?

I think it's time we take the advice of WorldChanging. I think it's time that the patient 78% of Metro Manila citizens who take public transit demand what's due them.

I think it's time for a Metro Manila Transit Riders Union.

It's time to ask:

  • Should public transit riders have to spend more time traveling and in traffic? (Be it because of a traffic bias for cars and bad PUV driving behavior.)

  • The government keeps spending on expanding roads, why don't they spend on public transit facilities? Like better bus stops and jeepneys stops. Or better connections between modes. Or better sidewalks.

  • Why doesn't the government implement strict quality standards so that public transit riders don't have to suffer in dirty buses with barely functional airconditioning or super squeezed in seats?

  • Why shouldn't public transit be more efficient than private transportation?

My contention has always been that we need an Urban Coalition of civic and business leaders that will initiate a metro-wide discussion on urban planning issues. It may take a while to get that coalition off the ground. Starting a Metro Manila Public Transit Riders Union would be a good way to build up momentum among stakeholders, could be a good pre-cursor to the Urban Coalition and should not take as much energy to get off the ground.

We could start with colloquia in our schools, or meetings in our parishes, or informal lunch discussions about our own public transit woes in our workplaces. We could begin with a forum on transportation and invite speakers in our civic clubs. We could start a website with a sign-up sheet. We could begin by talking to our co-passengerss in our daily FX ride.

I know our civic leaders seem to be focused on bigger fish but I wish someone could find the energy to take this initiative as this addresses a very real issue that confronts the poor* in our cities. This could very well be step one in the path towards urban happiness in our metropolis.

Any takers?

Image credit: Indie Fist
by Sparktography

* -You would have to be very myopic not to see that inefficient public transport is an integral dimension of the effects of poverty on our families. The father or the mother who cannot afford a car must pay for that everyday in an extra hour or more spent in traffic, time spent away from their homes and their children.


one sim city per child

SimCity on an OLPC to help kids understand cities. What's not to love?

This one via Slashdot

SimHacker writes

"Electronic Arts has donated the original 'classic' version of Will Wright's popular SimCity game to the One Laptop Per Child project. SimCity is the epitome of constructionist educational games, and has been widely used by educators to unlock and speed-up the transformational skills associated with creative thinking. It's also been used in the Future City Competition by seventh- and eighth-grade students to foster engineering skills and inspire students to explore futuristic concepts and careers in engineering. OLPC SimCity is based on the X11 TCL/Tk version of SimCity for Unix developed and adapted to the OLPC by Don Hopkins, and the GPL open source code will soon be released under the name
"Micropolis", which was SimCity's original working title. SJ Klein, director of content for the OLPC, called on game developers to create 'frameworks and scripting environments — tools with which children themselves could create their own content.' The long term agenda of the OLPC SimCity project is to convert SimCity into a scriptable Python module, integrate it with the OLPC's Sugar user interface and Cairo rendering library. Eventually they hope to apply
Seymour Papert's and Alan Kay's ideas about constructionist education and teaching kids to program."


green bridges

Dear Kuya B,*

When I first heard that QC was building a tunnel so that pedestrians could simply walk from QC Hall to the Quezon Memorial Park, what entered my mind was an underground passage for CARS as they turn from East Ave towards Kalayaan/Philcoa, that would effectively allow the park to extend its green area all the way to front steps of city hall.

Alas(kado), I was obviously dreaming.

But then I thought, if the idea is to accommodate the wishes of park users, couldn't we at least still allow them to cross above ground rather than below? The objective, I would have thought, is not just to allow for some convenience, but rather to actually create space -- open and CONTIGUOUS -- with the ultimate effect of even making pedestrians oblivious to traffic flowing below them. Couldn't we have had something like this instead? (See two attached photos.)

I'm sure the tunnel is already serving its purpose and that many residents are already benefiting from not having to play Frogger on the eight-lane elliptical road. But for future reference -- say, when we start considering linking the Quezon Memorial grounds to Parks and Wildlife (yes, I'm too old to call it Ninoy Aquino) and/or the Heart Center compound on the other sides of the circle -- wouldn't this be a better alternative? Here, for example, you can actually picture yourself biking across.

Wouldn't this have the better desired effect of expanding the one green oasis remaining in the city, rather than simply allowing us all the privilege of tunneling our way to what would still feel like a separate island?

Finally, wouldn't a pedestrian bridge be cheaper than a tunnel? I also imagine there's only so much landscaping you can do undergound, even assuming the tunnel ends up being well-lit, well-maintained, and clear of vendors/snatchers.


P.S. I took these pictures in Buenos Aires, and that's really what I wanted to tell you.

Dear Roby,

I'm all for your idea. Keeping pedestrians on the ground plane is actually safer as underground tunnels require security. They also cost more as far as maintenance goes (water extraction pumps, lighting, cleaning).

The choice of a tunnel to give pedestrians "safe" access to the circle betrays our elitist bias for the automobile and how behind we are as far as traffic management theory is concerned.

We're learning more and more that the key to efficient roads and road use is to slow down traffic, not speed it up. In fact, lowering the road speed to 30 km/h smooths out traffic and increases road carrying capacity:
Evidence from countries and cities that have introduced a design speed of 30 kilometers per hour (about 18.5 mph) -- as many of the European Union nations are doing -- shows that slower speeds improve traffic flow and reduce congestion.

"This surprises many people, although mathematically it's not surprising," Hamilton-Baillie says. "The reason for this is that your speed of journey, the ability of traffic to move smoothly through the built environment, depends on performance of your intersections, not on your speed of flow between intersections." And intersections, he says, work much more efficiently at lower speeds. "At 30 miles per hour, you frequently need control systems like traffic signals, which themselves mean that the intersection is not in use for significant periods of time. Whereas at slower speeds vehicles can move much more closely together and drivers can use eye contact to engage and make decisions. So you get much higher capacity."

Check out this presentation on road diets and urban livability from Parsons-Brinckerhoff (via StreetsBlog).

Your idea of connecting all of QC's parks via a green infrastructure is spot on. And many cities have discovered the power of pedestrian networks in reviving commerce, improving city navigability, enhancing civic pride and creating livable urban environments.

Since, between the two of us, you are the professional journalist/ columnist/ opinion leader, you probably have a better grasp of how we can get these ideas onto the radar of our mayors and our national government.


*btw, I only Roby A.'s sweet wife (Joy F.) call me "kuya" -since she was one of my youth campers back in the day.

Image credit: Pedestrian Bridge in
Buenos Aires by Roby Alampay


how to do it, how not to

Here's the good news from Mexico City's MetroBus (sp.) BRT system (via WorldChanging):

Mexico City, Mexico's Metrobus
To date, ridership is up, with 164 million users since Metrobus began operating. Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard wants to see nine more such corridors installed before the end of his term. Much cheaper than subway construction, these new lines will move as many as 1.7 million passengers daily, providing a break for public transit users, motorists and the city's air quality.

In fact, Ebrard plans to spend about $2.5 billion on improving public transit, adding a new subway line and lengthening the Insurgentes dedicated bus lane. He is going to take on the rest of the city's microbus owners as well.

Along with buying new large buses and junking the aging fleet of microbuses and vans, "We want to convince them to participate in companies like the Metrobus," said Armando Quintero, the city's Secretary of Transport and Roads. "Instead of investing in infrastructure for private vehicles, we are going to invest in collective transport, so that it is no longer a poor method of transport for the poor."
And here's the money shot:
While traffic flow has actually improved, Metrobus moves much faster than the rest of the traffic (emphasis mine, UDC) -- some 250,000 people use the Metrobus every day, and a journey that used to take over two hours is now down to 58 minutes. As a result of both faster traffic and speedier bus transit, the city's famously contaminated air is spared 35,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually.

However, the system has another innovative aspect to it: a combination of public and private ownership.

Metrobus director Guillermo Calderon knew he'd have a major fight on his hands if he just kicked the microbus owners off the street. "It would have gone against the politics of the city government and brought about major social problems," he said. "Insurgentes Avenue would have been totally blocked in protest."

Since a previous study of transit use on the avenue showed that about 7 out of every 10 persons used private collective transport, "we came up with an innovative scheme, integrating them into the business," he said.

While Calderon deals with management and planning, a consortium of two entities actually owns the system: the city-run Passenger Transport Network, or RTP, and a new privately-owned company called Corridor Insurgentes, S.A., or CISA.

CISA is made up of the 262 former microbus owners who had previously been offering service on Insurgentes.

Meanwhile, Chile's TranSantiago (sp.) stumbled at the gates (via Embarq's The City Fix):

Santiago, Chile's TranSantiago

“It is not common for a president to stand before the nation and say ‘Things haven’t gone well,” Michele Bachelet, Chile’s President, said in March of this year. “But that is exactly what I want to say in the case of Transantiago. The inhabitants of Santiago, especially the poorest deserve an apology.”

Conceived more than six years ago, TranSantiago was nothing less than a complete overhaul of Santiago’s public transit system with a particular focus on the buses that clogged the city’s streets. In broad strokes, Santiago took old, polluting buses off the streets, partially replaced them with new, clean buses, and reorganized bus routes to maximize the efficiency of the system as a whole. The whole purpose was to reduce system costs and, very specially, to reduce air pollution, a major problem due to thermal inversion in the winter months.

After six years of planning, the new system was launched in early February of this year. The results have been far from impressive: service coverage declined, waiting times increased, reliability dropped, and to top things off, buses and trains were overcrowded, bursting beyond capacity, and causing all sorts of delays. The horrendous service resulted in strong public protests, and even rioting in some areas of the city. The system accomplished exactly the opposite that it was intended for, as car ownership and car use rapidly increased as a solution to meet their commuting needs (see ad by a car dealer).

Why? (IndioSign would appreciate these notes):
Some have come away from the TranSantiago experience thinking that large and chaotic bus systems like Santiago’s cannot be fixed without creating an even bigger mess. I want to state unequivocally that this is simply not true. TranSantiago was the most ambitious transport modernization project in a developing city that was carried out in the last decade. The concept was good, but as the adage goes, the devil is in the details. During the development stages, important design components were overlooked. For example, there were not enough bus-exclusive lanes. Low-capacity bus stops were created instead of high-capacity bus stations. And the payment system required commuters to pay once they board, not when they entered the stations. All of these combined to produce overwhelming inefficiencies, with the commuter bearing the brunt of the burden. What we should take away from TranSantiago is that a project of such a massive scale demands a comprehensive design and implementation process, with all stake holders directly involved and in constant communication (emphasis mine -UDC). Quality of service should not be secondary to economic and environmental considerations. At least the average existing service conditions (coverage, total travel time) should be maintained.

Meanwhile, we're making baby steps with Hapi Buses.

Image credit: Metrobus and TranSantiago Images
from Wikimedia Commons


agro-housing and cars that fold

(via ASLA's The Dirt blog)

The building above is the proposed concept design for Agro-Housing, Knafo Klimor's winning entry in the the 2nd International Architecture Competition for Sustainable Housing. (Here's the write-up, more illustrations, a pdf presentation and a video tour.)

Basically it's a 12-story residential building with apartment units wrapping around a vertical greenhouse core. Vertical farming is not a new concept but previous proposals were basically industrial farms in skyscraper forms. There are though, very good reasons for moving agricultural production into vertical formats.

This is the first proposal that mixes housing with agriculture. (How's that for mixed-use?)

From the website:

Advantages of this innovative building typology:
  • Produces food for tenants and the surrounding community.
  • Produces organic and healthy food that is disease and fertilizer free
  • Creates an abundance of crops for self-consumption and sale for the neighbors.
  • Requires no special skill set for greenhouse operation
  • Allows for flexibility and independence for the greenhouse working hours.
  • Creates extra income and new jobs for the inhabitants in the building.
  • Creates a sense of community and softens the crisis of migration to cities.
  • Preserves rural traditions and social order.
  • Creates sustainable housing conditions and reduces air and soil pollution.
  • Improves the building’s microclimate and reduction of its energy usage (cooling and heating)
  • Uses water from the existing high water table and recycles grey water for gardening.
The proposal intrigues me and I wonder if this can help finance vertical low-cost or affordable housing in Metro Manila? Can the greenhouse produce commercial quantities of organic produce, enough at least to provide shared income for the apartment residents (perhaps as a cooperative)? If this was replicated on a large scale (like EcoBlocks), would it be viable enough to interest an investment from agro-industry?

Meanwhile, those crazy kids from MIT have proposed a carbon-free, stackable rental car.

"The Smart Cities group at the MIT Media Lab is working on two low-cost electric vehicles that it hopes will revolutionize mass transit and help alleviate pollution. Next week, the group will unveil a prototype of its foldable electric scooter at the EICMA Motorcycle Show, in Milan. A prototype for the team's foldable electric car, called the City Car, is slated to follow next year.

The MIT group sees the vehicles as the linchpin in a strategy that aims to mitigate pollution with electric power, expand limited public space by folding and stacking vehicles like shopping carts, and alleviate congestion by letting people rent and return the vehicles to racks located near transportation hubs, such as train stations, airports, and bus depots.

"We're looking at urban personal mobility in a much more sustainable way than the private automobile provides," says William Mitchell, director of the Smart Cities research group.

This will be fantastic paired with Zipcar's model of shared-car ownership (read: car membership plans). I've been a Zipcar member for the last 4 years and I find it indispensable. I get to use cars without having to worry about parking or maintenance. All for a reasonable hourly rental rate that covers gas and insurance.

I've wondered if a model like this could work in Makati and Ortigas. The big worry of course is carnapping, but the technology actually tracks the vehicles which could be a bit of a deterrent. You can also price in the cost of theft insurance into the business model. It could work. Plus, if MIT's cars finally get to market, then you have the added insurance of easy to spot cars not available in the retail market. (e.g.- no place to sell the car -unless, of course, you break it up).


eco-cities and mega-regions

Note: It's been a little tough around here, so again my apologies for not giving timely responses to your comments. We were terribly affected by the loss of Jack. Top that off with losing my eldest brother the month before, and Ana X a few months earlier. So it's been quite a year.

I had started several posts -all of them are stuck in some half complete form that I will hopefully get around to posting. (Q: How many half-completed posts are in your "draft posts" queue? I've got 38.)

There were several interesting articles last week that I wanted share and comment on but with the work grind still at maximum, I'll have to stick to short comments.


Pictured above is Arup's EcoBlock, a carbon-neutral take on China's SuperBlock model of urban development. SuperBlocks are key units in the 400x400 sq.m. development scales used in PROC's urban planning models - usually gated, always hi-rise.
"We knew that Chinese gated superblocks comprise the largest part of China’s overall development efforts, which are among the most ambitious construction in the history of the world. The Chinese are building 10 to 15 gated superblocks every day, equal to 10 million to 12 million housing units per year (10 times the US average). " (Unforbidden Cities)
So says Harrison Frakker Jr. (Dean of UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design). Berkeley CED's Urban Sustainability Initiative worked with Arup (the top engineering firm the world) to develop the alternative model for China's cities. Enter the EcoBlock:

Designed to be replicable to the masses, a concept that in reality puts minimal pressure on off-site infrastructure and the natural environment...Largely self sufficient in terms of energy and water use, EcoBlocks are carbon-neutral developments. Their layouts encourage walking, cycling and use of public transport.
All wastewater is recycled on-site; energy generation is on-site and any energy generated on-site from waste, sun, and wind is used to treat rainwater and gray water and provide residents with high quality potable drinking water. Even food waste and landscaping waste will be converted into energy to power residents' homes.

Constructed wetlands and swales collect and treat water for reuse, serving the dual purpose of enhancing the aesthetic value of each neighborhood and creating green waste that can be transformed into energy within an on-site anaerobic digester. And EcoBlocks are designed to use 40 percent less energy than a standard development of its size.
And the potential impact of the EcoBlock model?
...if 18,333 600-unit EcoBlocks were built, it would keep 34 landfills, 42 power plants, 54 water treatment plants, and 51 wastewater treatment plants from being built, at a total cost savings of $38,737,185,000 ... (Arup) estimates that the Chinese government alone would save 1.3 percent of its GDP from not having to build additional infrastructure to meet demands for energy, clean water, sanitation and waste disposal - and that's not counting the savings from costs currently associated with treating environmental pollution associated health problems, which currently claims about 10 percent of the country's GDP.
Could we use a similar model in redeveloping Metro Manila? (To give you an idea of the scale of a 400x400 meter project (16 hectares), here's how it measures against Glorietta:


Meanwhile, Richard Florida, proponent of the Creative Class and their role in making cities competitive, published a list of the top 40 mega-regions in the world. (All of them, urban corridors). Florida and his team compiled the top mega-regions (via CEOsforCities):

They use a new measure they call Light-based Regional Product to rank the world's top 40 mega-regions. They also include rankings by population, patents and frequently-cited scientists.

Greater Tokyo is the world's top mega-region. Boston-Washington and Chicago-Pittsburgh rank second and third.

Greater Toyko has 55.1 million people, LRP of $2.5 trillion, 91,280 patents, 11 highly-cited scientific authors. (All numbers are 2000-2001.)

Boston-Washington has 54.3 million people, LRP of $2.2 trillion, 21307 patents, and 293 authors.

Chicago-Pittsburgh has 46 million people, LRP of $1.6 trillion, 17,686 patents and 67 authors.
Rounding out the top 10 are:

Southern California (LA-San Diego-Tijuana)
In an article addressed to Torontonians (via Google's cache), he writes:

According to our definition, mega-regions are made up of two or more contiguous cities and their surrounding suburbs, and generate more than $100-billion in annual economic output.

...mega-regions are the real economic engines of the global economy. The 10 largest account for 43 per cent of the planet's economic activity and more than half of its patented innovations and star scientists who generate pioneering breakthroughs, while housing only 6.5 per cent of its population. The top 40 produce 66 per cent of the world's economic activity and more than eight in 10 of its patented innovations and most-cited scientists, while being home to just 18 per cent of the world's population.

All of this convinces me that place, not statehood, is the central axis of our time and of our global economy.
Read the pre-publication release of the paper here. (pdf)

Is Metro Manila on the list? Nope. Despite the supersized populations, megacities don't automatically fall into the mega-regions, although Mexico City, the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paolo corridor, and Delhi-Lahore make it to the list. (So do Singapore and Bangkok.)

Here's their map of the mega-regions in Asia:

Which then makes me think that key to our competitiveness would be to strengthen Metro Manila's connections (transportation and trade) with Hong Kong-Shenzen, Singapore and Taipei.



Fully Charged Jack from junisimbulan on Vimeo.

The saddest news: we lost brave Jack last night. He was six.

The video above was Jack after his last tranfusion in L.A.

He came home to battle an infection. He was in the hospital for over a month, the last week or so in the ICU.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his parents and family.

It is very very hard to say goodbye. But it is selfish to keep you with us when you do not seem to get any better. We have given you the best that we could possibly give. We have begged God for mercy countless times. We’re really sorry that our best could not save you. You know we really really tried. And we know you did too. You were such a brave kid, with such tenacity and will to live.

We’re very very proud to be your parents. We feel blessed to have been part of your life. 6 years is better than 0 years. We regret that we were not able to spend a lot of time with you because we were both working. But we are thankful for the nice vacations together: Baguio, Palawan, Tagaytay, Subic, ChiangMai, Singapore, LA. It was money well spent with you.

We were really hoping and praying that we could beat FA. We were ready to beg from people and have in fact started doing that. But this disease is plain cruel. It has robbed you of energy, playfulness and laughter.

We have said to you all the things that you needed to know, especially in our last month in the hospital. You only need to remember that we love you. And even if you go away, that love will not change. Ever. You will always be our baby – the one who went through such odds, the one who has given our family so much joy and laughter in the last six years.

We’d like to say sorry for whatever shortcomings, for sins we may have committed knowingly or unknowingly. Sometimes, we take our role as parents too seriously.

Anyhow, rest our child. Go to God, Jesus and the saints. To heaven where there is no more suffering. We will always love you. Until we see each other again.

Love always,
Papa and Mama


the logic of political survival

If you're looking for a next book to read, pick up Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's (et. al.) "The Logic of Political Survival" (MIT Press).

(This might be of particular interest to you, Koikaze)

Bueno de Mesquita's thoughts on the "selectorate" and the "winning coalition" could pretty well explain the Arroyo-Estrada love dance and even explain the conduct of our national politics. (It also echoes MLQ's own thoughts in the early paragraphs of this post) .

Bueno de Mesquita and his colleagues apply game theory to political analysis and actually use mathematical models to predict political outcomes.

His track record has been impressive:

A sample of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s wilder—and most accurate—predictions:
  • Forecasted the second Intifada and the death of the Mideast peace process, two years before it happened.
  • Defied Russia specialists by predicting who would succeed Brezhnev. “The model identified Andropov, who nobody at the time even considered a possibility,” he says.
  • Predicted that Daniel Ortega and the Sandanistas would be voted out of office in Nicaragua, two years before it happened.
  • Four months before Tiananmen Square, said China’s hardliners would crack down harshly on dissidents.
  • Predicted France’s hair’s-breadth passage of the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty.
  • Predicted the exact implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Britain and the IRA.
  • Predicted China’s reclaiming of Hong Kong and the exact manner the handover would take place, 12 years before it happened.

That list is from a great article in GOOD Magazine on Bueno de Mesquita.

You can also download two podcasts from EconTalk featuring the man and his thoughts:
More on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and his previous work here.

I'm still reading through their work -which is admittedly a very cynical view of politics, but on first blush, the theories do appeal to me as a designer.

Image credit:
Cover art feat. B. Bueno de Mesquita
by Ethan Hill for GOOD Magazine

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