(The Manila Bulletin is serializing Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino's book "A New City: A New Metro Manila, A New Feature," starting today and every Wednesday thereafter.)

AS a Filipino, I'm proud of Metropolitan Manila. I'm proud of its long and glorious history; its preeminent role in our country's culture, arts, finance and politics; the myriad opportunities it offers in the way of education, business, leisure, recreation and entertainment; its time-honored central place in the life of our nation and collective consciousness.

On the other hand, I also have reasons to believe it's high time we consider the possibility of developing other areas beyond the metropolis, and build a new capital city there, just like other countries in the world. This in the face of stark realities of overdevelopment and densification plaguing what is also known as the National Capital Region.

Maybe it's about time to put forward other dynamic solutions to address the endemic and burgeoning problems that the metropolis is currently facing. Metro Manila has already reached its carrying capacity. We have to divert some of our resources to plan, expand and improve other potential sites for development. We have to free up Metro Manila to allow for its further growth and progress.

The new capital city that I envision will be the benchmark for growth and development of other cities in the Philippines, as the country rides on the wave of modernization in the Asia-Pacific region. That ideal city will showcase the Filipino talent with renewed vigor and hope for a brighter future. That new city will be an enduring legacy and inspiration for the next generations - a new future that awaits us, as we move forward as one nation.

Urbanization And Densification In Metro Manila

I believe Metro Manila has reached its carrying capacity for development. With its population of some 12 million residents distributed over 16 cities and 1 municipality during the night and peaking at around 14 million during the day, the metropolis is visibly bursting at the seams.

With an estimated population density of 20,440 persons per square kilometer, a 25 percent increase from 16,033 in the year 20001, personal space is getting tighter than ever. With about 5,000 buses plying its streets daily, most of them along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), and 1.9 million registered vehicles on the streets every day, not even the number coding currently in effect can prevent the traffic congestion from becoming a nightmare at peak hours and during the Christmas season.

More than just the bumper-to-bumper traffic, flooding has become a perennial problem in the metropolis during the rainy season. The apocalyptic images of Typhoon Ondoy which hit our cities in October 2009 remain embedded in our memory.

Crimes in the metropolis have also gone up in the first eight months of 2011. This is in the face of extreme poverty, wherein many metro-dwellers live below the poverty line.

The presence of fault lines and rapid population growth mostly resulting from unchecked influx of informal settlers in those fault lines make Metro Manila vulnerable to the horrors of earthquakes. Based on the results of the JICA-MMDA-PHIVOLCS Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (M.M.E.I.R.S.), a worst-case earthquake scenario in Metro Manila could destroy around one-third of the metropolis' 1.3 million residential structures4. Under a do-nothing assumption, around 35,000 persons can be killed and another 115,000 injured if the earthquake strikes during the night.

The hazards are numerous and the risks are bound to continue in direct proportion to the increase in population.

We have tried and will continue to try varied solutions to our predicaments. It is quite evident that Metro Manila as it stands today has now reached its carrying capacity. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has proposed the construction of an elevated EDSA, an additional thoroughfare that could be a solution to the ever growing number of vehicles. But congestion is multi-dimensional. With increased purchasing power, more people will purchase cars. There will be more demand for residential and commercial areas, so developers will construct more horizontal and vertical communities. Population will continue to grow due to the inherent birth rate in Metro Manila compounded by migration from the provinces to the NCR. And, in turn, there will be more pressure on the old and dilapidated educational and health infrastructure. As urbanization continues to thrive, we will be facing more and more problems. If we fail to address our problems, Metro Manila as it is today will suffer more from the endemic ills of poverty and urban degradation. We do not want that to happen. We want a future that will be enjoyed by our children. We want a more vibrant, progressive, and sustainable Metro Manila.

History Of Planning For Metro Manila

To understand Metro Manila as we know it today, we should look back briefly at its history of planning. The city of Manila, along with Metro Manila as a whole, has undergone several planning phases.

In the first phase, planning was done by the Spanish colonizers and served the interests of Spain. It focused initially on the interior, Intramuros and the surrounding areas that would become the city of Manila.

López de Legazpi, the first Governor General of the Philippine Islands commenced the planning of the city of Manila with Intramuros at the core. The plans for Intramuros were in line with King Philip II's Royal Ordinance issued on July 3, 1573 in San Lorenzo, Spain. It was based upon a medieval castle structure and covered 64 hectares of land, surrounded by 8 meter thick stones and high walls that rise 22 meters.

The planning model used by the Spaniards in the New World was characterized by parallel and perpendicular straight streets that are crossed to form a gridiron within a defensive configuration. The church and city hall were located in the central area of the plaza. A series of infrastructure works was undertaken to make the city the "most European" city in Asia, resulting in a colonial architecture - a hybrid of local and Spanish architectural design. Intramuros became the center of political, military and religious power in the Philippines.

The Americans initiated the second phase and served the interests of the USA, but was aborted.

In 1904, the famous Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham came to the Philippines in 1904 upon invitation of the government to plan a modern Manila. Even with a population of only a hundred thousand, it was envisioned by Burnham as a metropolis inhabited by millions.

He proposed multi-laned avenues radiating from its central districts. He also proposed that the old moat around Intramuros be reclaimed, Luneta be enlarged into a 30 acre-park, and a seaside boulevard be built from the Manila waterfront to Cavite.

Burnham's vision/plan for Manila was for it to be a government center occupying all of Wallace Field, extending from Luneta to the present Taft Avenue. The Philippines Capitol was to rise on the Taft Avenue end of the field, facing the sea. Together with the buildings of various government bureaus and departments, it would form a quadrangle in the center. The plan was approved by the Philippine Legislature, which agreed to set aside two million pesos every year to realize it. However, only three units were built: the Legislative Building (originally intended as the National Library) and the building of the Finance (currently the Museum of the Filipino People) and Agricultural (now Tourism) departments.

The third phase is an overlap with the preceding phase and involved mainly reconstruction efforts under the administration of President Manuel L. Quezon, who decided to use the funds accumulated for the Burnham plan for irrigation projects instead. He created a new capital north of Manila in 1939 which was named after him, Quezon City.

President Quezon had grand plans for Quezon City but they were also only partially fulfilled.

William E. Parsons, American architect and planner, who had been a consulting architect during the American colonial period, helped select the Diliman (Tuason) estate in 1939 as the site for the new city. His partner Harry Frost took over when he passed away that year. Frost collaborated with Juan Arellano, engineer AD Williams and landscape architect/planner Louis Croft to craft a grand master plan for Quezon City.

Approved by Philippine authorities in 1941, the core of the new city was to be a 400-hectare central green, about the size of New York's Central Park, and defined by North, South (Timog), East and West Avenues. The three branches of government were envisioned to finally and efficiently be located close to each other. The Philippine Legislature and ancillary structures for the offices of representatives would be located in a 25-hectare elliptical site in the Diliman Quadrangle. The new Malacañang Palace and the Supreme Court Complex were supposed to be built on either side of the giant ellipse.

Quezon City never became a true national capital. Government buildings were constructed, but with the City of Manila reclaiming that title in 1976 under the Marcos administration, key government instrumentalities became fragmented in terms of location. The Presidential Palace (Malacañang) and Supreme Court remain in the City of Manila, while the House of Representatives (Batasan Pambansa Complex) is in Quezon City, and the Philippines Senate is in a reclaimed land in Manila Bay attached to the Government Service Insurance System Main Office.

The fourth phase was initiated under the Marcos regime through the Ministry of Human Settlements headed by then First Lady Imelda Marcos. Metro Manila was already acknowledged as a disaster prone area and the establishment of Lungsod Silangan was considered as an extension of Metro Manila that was to be established in Antipolo at the foot of Sierra Madre. The Lungsod Silangan Development Plan could have reached as far as Infanta-Real in the province of Quezon.

Executive Order No. 570 was issued on November 29, 1979 "Creating a Task Force to Undertake Land Assembly and Official Development Registry Activities in Declared Bagong Lipunan Sites and Urban Land Reform Zones" where Lungsod Silangan and its adjacent area was to be the model for the development of Bagong Lipunan sites and Urban Land Reform zones.

It was also during this time that further development was undertaken by Mrs. Marcos in Manila with the construction of the following landmarks: the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which is a modern version of the Bahay Kubo designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin, the Folk Arts Theater constructed in just 77 days for the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) which was constructed within two years to host the World Bank-IMF meeting in 1976, the Manila Film Center constructed in just one month and, the Nayong Pilipino and 18 hotels for the 1982 Manila International Film Festival.

Several hospitals were also built during that time - the Philippine Heart Center for Asia, Lung Center, Kidney Center, and the Philippine Children's Medical Center.

The Light Rail Transit (LRT) project was conceived in July 1980 as "Metrorail" and construction of the Yellow Line (Line 1) was started in October 1981. The first half runs from Baclaran to Central Terminal and the second half from Central Terminal to Monumento.

The Blue Line (Line 3) opened in 1999 and runs along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) from Pasay City to North EDSA Quezon City. Construction of the Purple line (Line 2) began in the 1990s and the first section opened in 2003. The Purple Line from Santolan to Recto became fully operational in 2004 using the Megatren technology, a fully automatic, driver-less system.

There are plans for the Yellow Line and Blue Line to be extended further. San Miguel Corporation will work on the construction of MRT-7 that will start in North Avenue in Quezon City traversing Commonwealth Avenue, passing through Caloocan City and ending in the city of San Jose del Monte in Bulacan, with 2014 as target date of completion.

Extending LRT-1 to the South, His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III recently approved the extension of LRT Line 1 to 12 kilometers more from Baclaran Terminal Station to Bacoor in Cavite. Once completed, the said line would serve 40,000 passengers per day.

We are now in the fifth phase, with measures being undertaken toward the regeneration of Metro Manila, and what may soon become Mega Manila (Metro Manila and neighboring provinces). Long-term plans, such as urban renewal and the provision for an efficient mass transportation, are engendered by the current administration to rise up to the challenge of global competitiveness.

The President signed on 21 February 2012 EO 67, providing for the establishment of an Integrated Transport System (ITS). The Project aims to establish two (2) integrated transport terminals in the north and south of Metro Manila. These terminals are envisioned to be at par with international standards, providing effective interconnections between different transport modes and services thereby ensuring efficient and seamless travel. The Project shall be included by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in the Public Investment Program (PIP) 2011-2016.

On the other hand, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), in partnership with the World Bank, Australian Aid, and the World Cities Alliance launched the "The Metro Manila Greenprint 2030"(Learning from Global Experiences of Metropolitan Transformation). The Greenprint is a two-decade development plan that will be a spatial strategy, guiding the form of the urban region, trunk infrastructure, green systems, and clustering of economic activities. Greenprint 2030 will stress sustainability, and will be based on a transformative approach for Metro Manila's future and the optimization of the metropolis' potential as a highly competitive global city, which will benchmark the development strategies of the Philippines in the world. (To be continued)