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Can we have 15-minute cities in the Philippines?

Imagine being able to access your basic needs and services—markets, groceries, schools, hospitals, banks, or even your workplace—without having to ride a car or spend an hour or so sitting on a bus or jeep.

Right now, this scenario is far from reality in the densely populated Metro Manila. In 2023, the average daily traffic volume of all kinds of vehicles in the metro reached about 3.63 million, the bulk of which are motorcycles (1.67 million) and cars (1.57 million). It is actually this volume of vehicles that makes it hard to navigate the different cities in the metropolis, or even neighborhoods within these cities.

Last year at the COP28 in Dubai, the UN-Habitat called for stronger efforts toward better urban planning and the management of our cities. It stressed on the need to transform urban centers into polycentric cities made of connected, mixed-use neighborhoods that provide access to key services, amenities, and public transport to all. There should be less car dependency and more people-centric roads and nature-friendly neighborhoods. 

In fact, polycentric cities—where everyday services are easily accessible to citizens—have become a goal for several cities in the world seeking to become more sustainable and less dependent on fossil fuels.

One of the popular models is the 15-minute city developed by Professor Carlos Moreno, a Franco-Colombian scientist and mathematician, and first implemented in Paris by Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

The concept is that everyday destinations like schools, stores, and offices should only be a short walk or bike ride away from home. The strategy includes the development of more local jobs, local commerce, more friendly and greener neighborhoods; reducing the need for individual cars, reclaiming the public space, and developing cultural activities.

According to Professor Moreno, who wrote about this strategy in the book, The 15-Minute City: A Solution to Saving Our Time and Our Planet, “With proximity at its heart, [the 15-minute city concept] mobilizes a vast amount of creative energy to achieve a balance previously thought impossible.”

Several cities and states are already embracing this polycentric city concept—Buenos Aires’ ciudad a escala humana (human-scale city), Portland, Oregon’s complete neighborhoods, Dubai’s 20-minute city, China’s living circles, Melbourne’s 20-minute neighborhoods, Ultrech, Netherlands’ 10-minute city, among others.

Can we do this in the Philippines?

Quezon City—a member the C40, which is a global network of cities for fighting climate change and has been promoting the polycentric city concept—is exploring the possibility of implementing this strategy in its barangays as part of its efforts to establish livable, green and sustainable communities.

This will most certainly entail a lot of hardwork and require a lot of changes. But we can always start one area at a time. Community markets and sari-sari stores are already in every barangay, easily accessible to residents. In fact, the presence of micro enterprises in the barangays is already creating local employment. 

Meanwhile, in areas where there are nearby public schools and hospitals, better access can be attained through the promotion of various mobility options, such as dedicating bicycle lanes or shared lanes, ensuring pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and improving public transportation.

An integral part of this concept is the acceptance of both leaders and citizens to embrace a new lifestyle. Because in order for it to be successful, it needs not only the support of residents, but also their active participation to ensure that the plan is based on the realities on the ground. 

We ought to start exploring how we can turn our cities and communities into polycentric areas, so that we can all enjoy better access to our basic needs and services. This way, we can spend less time on the road and more time for family and friends, as well as personal time—all resulting in a better quality of life. 

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