Book and Movie Themes The Happy City Urban Planning Issues in the Philippines

7 Essentials of A Sustainable City: Cases of Philippine Cities

I give examples of Philippine cities that exhibit the qualities of a sustainable city.

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One of my favorite paragraphs in Charles Montgomery’s “Happy Cityis the description of a sustainable city.

A graphical summary of the Sustainable City.  Happy City.
A graphical summary of the Sustainable City. Happy City

With the capital city of Manila consistently ranking low internationally, I give examples of cities in the Philippines that demonstrate each attribute of the sustainable city, according to Happy City.

Defining Sustainability

Each funding organization and international agency has their own definition of sustainability.

Most often, the Sustainability Venn Diagram that exhibits the intersection among economy, society and environment is used.

Of course, sustainability is a systemic approach to the city.

“Happy City” describes a sustainable city, compared to a regular city, as

  1. healthier
  2. higher in status
  3. more fun
  4. more resilient
  5. able to lure people together
  6. able to reward people for efficient choices
  7. able to ensure that the good choice and the happy choice are the same

My objective is to illustrate that local governance,  together with financial assistance and capability-building has yielded positive results in Philippine cities.

Healthier Cities

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The World Health Organization describes a healthy city as

“one that is continually creating and improving…physical and social environments and expanding…community resources which enable people to mutually support each other in performing all functions of life and developing to their maximum potential.”

WHO continues to argue that the health of the city depends on “a commitment to improve a city’s environs and a willingness to forge the necessary connections in political, economic and social arenas.”

WHO details the fundamentals of how to make a healthy city using cases of their Healthy Cities Network.

Interested in solid waste management planning?

Marikina City  is part of Healthy Partners, a nonprofit organization that supported the city through initiatives that directly and indirectly affect health and wellness of the community.

Direct health initiatives include healthy schools and healthy markets. Indirect health initiatives include healthy infrastructure.

Protected bike lanes are healthy infrastructure.
Protected bike lanes are healthy infrastructure.

Higher in Status

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“High status” is a vague description, so I define “status” as reputation.

A reputable city is a brand that creates a good name for leaders and citizens.

What gives a city a good reputation?

The Reputation Institute enumerates safety, beauty and leadership as the primary components of a city’s reputation score.

The 2018 Numbeo list of 10 safest cities in Southeast Asia was dominated by Philippine cities, with Valenzuela City ranking second.

Valenzuela City ranked first in the 2018 Local Peace and Order Council Performance Audit , primarily because of its Comprehensive Safety and Security Plan.

The Plan is one of the Top 10 Outstanding Local Governance Programs in 2018.

More Fun

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Fun is a difficult concept to define, as it changes from person to person.

Time Out’s City Life Index ranks the most affordable, friendly and fun cities, according to “which ones promise the most fun and excitement.”

If fun is about entertainment, then it is hard to beat Paranaque City, as it welcomes visitors to the country with the Entertainment City.

Entertainment City
Entertainment City

If fun is about friendliness, the City of Smiles is the top Philippine city. Its Maskara Festival is a feast of dance and music.  

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More Resilient

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Resilience is often related with disaster risk reduction and management.

For a greatly vulnerable country like the Philippines, the definition of resilience as “bouncing back better” has both been a boon and a bane.

Filipino resiliency has been equated to being content of disasters instead of being ready for disasters.

Legazpi City, Pasig City and Quezon City are top cities in the resilience discussion. All are multiple-time awardees of Gawad Kalasag, a national award that honors best practices in disaster risk reduction.

Lures People Together

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Becoming a community is manifested by places of bonding and gatherings.

The presence of urban green spaces is an indicator of a city’s vision towards building communities.

Cities like San Juan in Metro Manila are rehabilitating plazas and parks through the Green, Green, Green program.   Through a P4 million fund assistance, shade trees were planned to be planted in the Agora Plaza.

River esplanades are also key projects in waterway-traversed cities like Iloilo City.

Iloilo River esplanade.
Iloilo River esplanade.

Rewards people for efficient choices

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For choices to be efficient, the benefits must outweigh the costs.

In the global scale, efficient cities are frequently described based on reduced environmental emissions and smart services.

I argue that efficiency can become more practical and immediate.

In food, it can be through urban agriculture.

In transportation, mass transport is more efficient than private car ownership.

Densely-mixed land uses are appropriate for cities especially because of limited land area.

Read about technology and data-driven transportation!

San Carlos City in Negros Occidental is known for its urban farming activities.

Davao City is pursuing a High Priority Bus System ahead of other metropolitan regions.

Bus rapid transit systems are cheaper alternatives to railway transit systems.

Ensures that the good choice and the happy choice are the same

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Everyday we make a lot of choices. From waking-up until we sleep again, our food, movement and relationships are affected by the choices we make.

In an unsustainable city, the good choice and the happy choice are not always the same choice.

Good choices are more often ethical and moral. The benefits are for the majority and the minority, not only for the self.

Happy choices are for the self –to satisfy interest, to promote growth, to ensure fulfillment.

Happy City cites an impactful example:

“although…most…would prefer a walkable community…most of us also want to live…with plenty of privacy and space.”

Happy City

The good choice, to benefit everyone in the limited space of the densest cities, is to maximize every piece of land.

A good choice is to live in a way that limits land use and resource use.

The happy choice, to benefit the self first of all,  is to own private space while also experiencing the health and social advantages of a walkable city.

The happy choice is self-satisfaction!

Frankly, I am lost for an example of a Philippine city where the “good choice and the happy choice are the same.”

Read: 4 Urban Planning Themes from the book Happy City!

Become a Filipino Environmental Planner!


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