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5 Challenges Future Philippine Cities Will Need to Address

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While most Filipinos have roots in the countryside, the future and present of the Philippines is decidedly urban. The country recently reached a milestone, with over half the population now residing in cities and with more living in semi-rural suburbs and commuting to work in bigger city centers. This means that a majority of Filipinos are already urbanites, which drives home the need to better develop our city spaces.

Unfortunately, keeping our cities in step with the needs of its inhabitants and regular visitors is not going to be a walk in the park. Here are just a few of the challenges virtually all our rapidly expanding cities are likely to face.

1.) Water shortages

Current water infrastructure in the Philippines is still adequate in most major urban centers. However, many such systems, especially in rural areas and cities outside of major cities like Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, are dilapidated or outdated, with low relative efficiency.

As a result, water shortages are starting to become more commonplace, as these old setups lack capacity and experience significant system losses. If these old systems are not replaced or updated, water shortages may become endemic rather than occasional events.

Fortunately, the national government has already started working on solutions for the future water crises, tapping into the expertise of the private sector partners to develop new infrastructure before existing systems are fully rendered obsolete. With such public-private partnerships in place, the water infrastructure Philippines cities will have in the future will become more efficient, sustainable, and enduring. 

2.) Lack of green spaces

Urban blight and the lack of greenery have very real negative effects on urban populations. Not only does the lack of trees and parks coincide with higher incidences of lung ailments and different types of cancer, but they can also have a profoundly deleterious effect on the mental health of locals. There is evidence that the lack of green spaces leads to much higher rates of depression and anxiety, which can lead to a serious loss of productivity and make spaces unliveable.

In places such as Metro Manila, urbanization has been left to happen more or less without a master plan. As green spaces do not directly increase income for land developers in most cases, these have sadly been deprioritized in favor of more condominiums and commercial buildings. 

While the private sector does create green spaces, most of this is limited to the needs of a select few. For this reason, city governments concerned with the health of their citizens will have to consider ways to increase the green space available to benefit the wider population.

3.) Inadequate mass transportation

Cities cannot function well if people cannot get around them easily. In larger Philippine cities such as Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, the existing infrastructure is largely optimized for cars, with mass transit options being woefully inadequate compared to what is available in other countries. 

While people can take jeepneys or buses, it is clear that these are extremely disadvantageous, with commutes of two hours each way no longer being seen as all that unusual.

While it may not be obvious on an individual level, traffic and inadequate mass transit can lead to significant productivity losses. A 2019 report by the Japan International Cooperation Agency showed that Metro Manila lost an estimated 67 million USD a day in productivity due to bad traffic. Thus, solving traffic problems will not only benefit the mental and physical health of commuters, but it will also create a welcome cash windfall as well.

4.) Inequality

Coming from the previous points on green spaces and mass transportation, it is clear that many infrastructure initiatives endorsed by city governments favor select groups of people over the greater good. 

As a result, inequality is often stark in cities, especially in countries that broadly follow free-market principles such as the Philippines. These urban inequality patterns, however, are not unique by any means. Ity is often a root cause of inescapable poverty, which in turn, tends to increase petty crime rates in urban centers. To drive this home, cities in societies that are more equitable due to culture or public policies, such as in Japan and parts of Western Europe, tend to have relatively low street crime compared to cities in less equitable societies.

It may be difficult for an individual city to take on inequality without some changes within the society it is a part of. However, by ensuring that infrastructure investments are better able to benefit most of the inhabitants, cities can do their part to prevent and mitigate it.

5.) Climate Change

Most of the world’s major cities are situated either on the coast or along the banks of a major river. Most of the largest Philippine cities, such as Manila, Iloilo, and Davao are not only on the coast but also have a major river system running through them. This makes these cities particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which can cause catastrophic changes in the level and quality of water resources.

In the near future, floods and typhoons caused by climate change are likely to be more frequent occurrences in major Philippine cities. While there isn't much that individual cities can do to stop climate change, there are technologies and policy changes that could be harnessed to make them more resilient to these types of disasters. These can, perhaps, help Philippine cities survive and thrive in our uncertain future.

When Should Cities Prepare?

Now is the perfect time. Migration to the cities continues unabated, suggesting that this is an almost inevitable phenomenon that is tied to industrialization and rising prosperity, both of which seem to hold true in the local context. If policymakers don’t prepare for them today, these and other problems are sure to follow and impact future generations.


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