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


reprint: on the boundary system

Note: OK, I'm being lazy. Here's a replay of my old post -from August of 2008 2005 (thanks, chesca), on how the economic model of public transport in the city shapes both driver behavior and our actual built environment. You can catch the original post and the comments here. And here's the whole series on disorganized transport.

The Boundary System as a city shaper.

Cities are self-organizing systems. With the exception of planned cities like Brasilia or Chandigarh, very few cities arise ex-nihilo.

Cities respond to the needs of the individuals that comprise it and one of the key needs is mobility -to get from one point to another.

Cities are shaped by the current mode of transportation available when they grew up. So older european cities have narrow winding streets, suitable for carts and donkeys or walking. London grew up around the tube, and New York around the subway system. L.A., like Metro Manila, grew up around the automobile -so roads (at least in the newer parts of the metropolis) are wide and traffic fast.

The mode of transportation shapes the city and the demands of the city also shapes the transportation -particularly public transportation.

In our own city, public transport, as I previously discussed has been given over to the free market. The rewards/remuneration system of this particular urban sub-system, has shaped our city in ways that may have been invisible to us all these years.

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.

This remuneration/rent system has shaped metro-manila in subtle and not so subtle ways.

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. The underpass in cubao, the flyovers in ortigas, the overpasses in santolan, even the grade separations in EDSA in Makati were driven by the logic of separating the buses, who spent an inordinate amount of time at the intersections waiting for passengers, from the rest of the road traffic.

The government has also probably thrown millions of pesos in soft costs at trying to manage the behavior of the public utility vehicles by throwing hundreds of traffic enforcers and by coming up with several management programs (from Oscar Orbos' bus numbering system, to Bayani Fernando's Organized Bus Routes).

The flyovers/overpasses/underpasses have made EDSA completely un-friendly to pedestrians, and the accumulation of vehicles in the intersections have concentrated exhaust/pollution in the areas around these passenger pickup junctions so these have become some of the worst parts of the city. (Ordinarily, the high pedestrian traffic junctions would be the most suitable places for commerce and retail.)

A serious re-thinking of the boundary system (legislating a wage based system seems the easy way out -but that will create it's own problems) would go a long way not only in solving intractable traffic problems but also in re-shaping the fabric of the city.

*-Part of "Konting ipit lang po, pituhan yan."

Roughly translated, "Please squeeze your thighs a bit more, this jeepney fits seven to a side."

Image credit:Manfred's Travel Pictures



Note: Anyone still here? The operative word, as far as work is concerned, is "tuliro" -- and I've been running around like a headless chicken working to close several projects.

I wrote this sitting in a DC airport, waiting for a flight that was delayed for three hours. rather than working on my projects, I squeaked in some-not-so-quality blog time.

I wound up in wifi hell on the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario, so I missed both the news and the blog posts.

I hope you're all ok.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the bombing in G2: A good friend of mine was a mere hundred feet away from the explosion. I'm glad he's ok. Another friend is on the front lines for ALI helping the victims and their families. Strength and endurance for her.

Further on rethinking public transport, here's a quick work-up on why our roads are so congested.

An average bus, carrying full capacity, can seat about 70 passengers. An average car, about 4. (Five, if you want to squeeze people in.)

Let's do a side by side comparison. Assume the bus is not full to capacity and carries only 60 people. (Of course, rush hour buses in Metro Manila probably carry close to 100). Then, assume 4 passengers per car. What effect does that have on our roads?

Here are the numbers:

You'll need 15 cars to transport as many people as one bus. You'll need 30 full cars to be on par withtwo buses (120 passengers).

How much road space do these vehicles take up? The two buses will take up 38 meters (124.6 feet) of road space. Bumper to bumper, the 30 cars will take up 152 meters (498.6 feet). Even if you double up on two lanes, the cars will still stretch to 76 meters -twice the road space of the two buses.

What does this mean as far as road capacity? Take two lanes on EDSA's 23 kilometers, fill it up with buses -and you can theoretically move 145,440 people. Fill those same two lanes with cars instead and you will only carry 36,360 people. Barely a fourth of the bus capacity.

You will need at least 8 lanes of road, with bumper to bumper cars, to even come close to what the buses can carry!

If two lanes of cars can only carry a fourth of one lane of buses, the cars will have to move at 4 times the speed of the buses to transport as many people. And that's under perfect (read: unreal) conditions -where the cars drive almost bumper to bumper and traffic flows smoothly.

Which is why the logic of counting the number of vehicles that move on a road (traffic flow), instead of counting the number of people you can transport (people flow) to measure performance only leads to more congestion.

To increase carrying capacity, you will try to try to speed up traffic. You will be forced to widen the road (and eat up sidewalks) to add more lanes and increase throughput. You will think of building flyovers and underpasses and overhead highways to keep traffic flowing.

Then there's the emissions equation. Eight lanes of EDSA will carry 36,360 cars. Two lanes of EDSA will carry 2,424 buses. Even if you assume that each bus generates 10 times more GHGs than each car, two lanes of buses will still generate 30% less GHGs than 8 lanes of cars. (And it's way easier to equip buses with CNG engines, which can theoretically produce just 7% of the emissions that the 8 lanes of cars will produce.)

The logic is clear. You want to move people more efficiently? Move more buses.*

You want to clean up the air and take care of our environment? (Not to mention, contribute to GHG reduction)? Reduce car use, increase bus use.

What about bad driving?

This all looks good on paper, you say. But with the way metro manila's bus drivers drive, we can throw all those efficiency gains out the window.

If you've kept up with this blog long enough, you'll know that I'm convinced we won't solve bad (PUV) driver behavior with increased traffic enforcement, we have to change the economic model of our public transportation system.

p.s. -taking the train to Ottawa later today - will use the time (and the onboard wifi) to answer all the great comments I've been neglecting.

* Don't we have the OBR, you ask. Isn't that a bus priority lane? I though it would be a precursor to a BRT system, but it sadly, the OBR seems to be more about driver discipline rather than transit efficiency. It's a traffic management solution, not a public transportation solution.

(So what if you used FXs instead of cars? You can assume 10 passengers, including the driver, and assume the chassis length. Two lanes of FXs will only carry 60% vs. two lanes of buses. And, of course, you'll still be generating more GHGs with the FXs than the buses.)

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