Sidewalks so narrow that they force people to walk on the road, separated from speeding cars by nothing but a prayer. Footbridges so high that crossing them feels like climbing a mountain. Dirty walkways directly under faulty railways. Trains that can take hours to arrive, jeepneys that expose passengers to pollution, and packed buses that may or may not be air-conditioned.
According to experts, the way Metro Manila is designed prioritizes cars and capital over people. You can tell by the prevalence of gated villages, which consume lots of prime real estate but house only a privileged few. It's also evident in the lack of public spaces, abundance of privately-owned malls and high-rise buildings, and poorly designed public transportation and pedestrian infrastructure. All this makes it difficult for people to get around the city by foot. But it shouldn’t be that way.
“Walkability in our streets isn’t an amenity we can choose to not have—street design should always start with walkability in mind,” Arts Serrano, a Filipino architect, told VICE.
A city or neighborhood’s “walkability” measures how friendly it is to pedestrian activity. This is sometimes determined by analyzing how many errands people can do in a place without having to use a car. In other words, walkable cities are those that make people, not cars, the center of their design. Of course, people walk around Metro Manila all the time, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy it or are safe doing so.
“Sure, an able-bodied person can kind of get around on foot in Metro Manila, and there are sections where the historic street planning and architecture might be friendly to walking—places like Intramuros come to mind—but I think we have a ways to go before we can start calling this city ‘walkable’ with a straight face,” Anton Siy, the head of the Transport Development and Management Office of Pasig City (one of the 16 cities that comprise Metro Manila), told VICE.
Luckily, there are ways to improve a city’s walkability, and doing so could benefit local economies and make communities more equitable and sustainable. Below are a few things the government and people can do to make Metro Manila more walkable.
Make roads safer for people
Exposure to cars is a major deterrent to walking, so limiting vehicle speeds (sometimes called “traffic calming”) around areas where people walk—or should be able to walk—helps cultivate a safer and more comfortable environment.
According to Siy, there’s a lot to consider in making Metro Manila more walkable. “But the main thing would be to work on road safety, and the two main ways to do that are to enforce motor vehicle speed limits and make street crossings safer.”
Create welcoming building facades and outdoor areas
One way to make cities more walkable is to create opportunities for its citizens to enjoy walking. Benches and other outdoor seating areas create spaces that people want to spend time in, and friendlier and more unique building faces can help keep people entertained while walking.
Serrano pointed out that many of the high-rise buildings in Metro Manila have ground levels that are dedicated to things like parking entrances or banks—neither of which encourage a lively street experience.
Buildings with features as simple as entrances right on the sidewalk, street-level windows, and disguised parking, or streets lined with creative retailers, sidewalk cafes with patios, and a canopy of trees can all help make streetscapes more dynamic and walks more enjoyable.
Another way to make places more walkable, according to Serrano, is to link walkable neighborhoods to effective inter-city public transportation. This can be especially relevant in Metro Manila, which is made up of 16 cities and one municipality.
One way to do this is to first provide options for inter-city transit, then make it easier, safer, and more enjoyable to walk to those transit stops. This would make the transit options more accessible, and encourage more people to choose to start or end their trips on foot.
Do things in the streets
Serrano said that the transformation of a city can also come from its people.
He pointed to groups like the Esteban Cycling Community and Manila Community Radio, which have hosted street fairs in Makati City (another of the 16), the country’s central business district. The First United Building Corporation also supports multiple creative activities in Metro Manila, and other efforts around the megacity. According to Serrano, small collective calls for better streetscapes like these inform what developments larger-scale networks can implement. They help bring more people to the streets in their own neighborhoods, and can ultimately make Metro Manila, as a whole, more walkable.
Remember: Streets are public property
Both Serrano and Siy pointed to the role of the government in making Metro Manila more walkable. Local governments, for example, can implement traffic rules, regulate building codes, build public spaces, and improve public transport systems. But they have to do it in the interest of the right people.
“The government needs to take on a stronger and more independently-minded role in crafting to whose desires we build our cities for. The privatization of our public realm should always be looked at in the context of the human scale vs consumption-driven metrics,” said Serrano.
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