Imagining Metro Manila as a 'green' capital

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 09 2019 07:59 PM | Updated as of May 10 2019 12:23 PM

 (First of a series) 

Nestled between buildings along Julia Vargas Avenue in Ortigas is an elevated plaza that serves as an oasis to the many interconnected walkways in the area. On Tuesday afternoon, around 30 people were sitting on its concrete benches, chatting with friends or fiddling with their phones as they waited for their respective appointments. 

The wind swept into the plaza, messing up people’s hair and rustling the grass and shrubs planted around the plaza’s centerpiece skylight. 

Nestled between buildings along Julia Vargas Avenue in Ortigas is an elevated plaza that serves as an oasis to the many interconnected walkways in the area. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN

For a while, you forget that you are in a central business district (CBD), with cars plying the roads non-stop, traffic building up in every intersection. 

Watching the plaza from a block away that afternoon was Paulo Alcazaren, urban planner and principal of PGAA Creative Design.
Alcazaren, who holds office in Ortigas, designed the plaza as part of Pasig City’s redevelopment plan.

Urban planner Paulo Alcazaren. Photo by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN

Green spaces

He said such “retrofits” need to be done to address the government’s past failure of not following a masterplan that allowed for sufficient green spaces and adequate pedestrian systems.

“There’s very little opportunity in our dense city centers to open up for actual green parks… Assuming that the government had followed the one dozen or so masterplans for Metro Manila. That all had parks…most of which were never implemented or built. So, the failure of government is something to be addressed,” he said.

Alcazaren explained that central business districts are private initiatives and that there are no laws requiring them to allocate a certain percentage of their developments to greeneries. 

Recently, news reports cited efforts of regional lender Asian Development Bank (ADB) to provide assistance to the Philippine government in order to create elevated green walkways intersecting what is perhaps its busiest highway EDSA.

The elevated walkways, which will incorporate plants and trees in the design, are supposed to be put up in Balintawak, Cubao, Guadalupe and Taft. ADB is just waiting for the project to be approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) so the loan agreement can be finalized.

Ortigas Greenways as designed by Paulo Alcazaren and PGAA Creative Design
Ortigas Greenways as designed by Paulo Alcazaren and PGAA Creative Design

Ortigas elevated pathway

Alcazaren was already hired as a consultant by the ADB to design a similar project called the Ortigas Greenways. Alcazaren is hopeful that the project will push through.

In his design, elevated pathways should be connected to the Ortigas MRT station and the nearby buildings and these will lead into small parks inside the central business district. 

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Video courtesy of Paulo Alcazaren 

His design also incorporates features for people who bike to work.

“The number one practical problem when biking to work is when you get to your destination, the CBD, you are sweating and you are dirty. So, in the Greenways that we designed…we have incorporated what’s called a bike hub. Underneath one of the flyovers, we have showers, we have toilets,” Alcazaren said.

He said they already talked to a bike shop that is willing to set up a facility that will allow bikers to “shower, change, lock and store their bike for the day.”

Basic service

“It’s actually not a luxury to have this (pathways). It’s very basic. What we have in Metro Manila is a deficiency of basic infrastructure for pedestrians,” Alcazaren said. 

He said central business districts feature world-class buildings but the spaces between them are not well thought out to accommodate the needs of pedestrians. The same applies to train stations, which seemed to have been built without considering where the passengers will go after leaving the station. 

“What is lacking in Metro Manila is the intermodal connectivity – the connection from when you ride or go down the MRT going to your next mode of transportation such as an FX or jeepney,” Alcazaren said. “Our sidewalks are narrow. That is what we are trying to address with the Greenways. It will have some landscape embedded into the walkways and it will also be greener because the Greenways as it comes into the districts it will reduce the necessity for tertiary systems for vehicles lie tricycles and jeepneys because you can just walk from the MRT going to your office.”

“All commutes start and end with walking,” Alcazaren pointed out. “And we have not addressed those two ends, which could save from 15 to up to 45 minutes in anyone’s commute.”

Ortigas Greenways as designed by Paulo Alcazaren and PGAA Creative Design
Ortigas Greenways as designed by Paulo Alcazaren and PGAA Creative Design

Benefit to gov’t, business

Alcazaren said, while he welcomes the help of funding institutions like ADB, governments should realize that pedestrian systems have concrete benefits to society.

In addition to making commuting easier and more affordable for workers in CBDs, green pathways are beneficial to the environment and the health of the people. They are also cheaper than bridges and other infrastructure for cars.

“If the buildings are going to be remodeled or reconstructed anyway, getting from 15 to 30 storeys, a lot of these buildings will benefit from integrating the elevated walkways into their podium floors,” he said.

He pointed out how malls have gotten more customers because of walkways that connect them to train stations.

“The Esplanade in Iloilo was very successful [and] was funded by government,” Alcazaren said. “In Iloilo Esplanade before we started the price of property beside the Esplanade was P2,000-3,000 per square meter. Today, it’s P18,000-P20,000.”

Iloilo Esplanade as designed by Paulo Alcazaren and PGAA Creative Design

“In terms of parks, the most expensive property in New York is around Central Park as it is in any major city,” he added.

“Investment in these infrastructure for people in terms of real estate value and investor attraction is proven,” he said. “You should not wait for outside help.”

At the end of the interview, Alcazaren looked back at the window and pointed at the recently constructed elevated plaza - a reminder of what can be done and what must still be done for Metro Manila’s urban dwellers. 

A view of the elevated walkway in the Ortigas business district in Pasig City, May 07, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN news

A view of the elevated walkway in the Ortigas business district in Pasig City, May 07, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN news

A view of the elevated walkway in the Ortigas business district in Pasig City, May 07, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN news

A view of the elevated walkway in the Ortigas business district in Pasig City, May 07, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN news

A view of the elevated walkway in the Ortigas business district in Pasig City, May 07, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN news

A man crosses the elevated walkway along Meralco Avenue and Sapphire Avenue in Ortigas in this photo taken on March 12, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News