A CITY WHERE residents can walk or bike to essential services in 15 minutes is possible in the Philippine capital, where people endure long commutes, according to urban planner Felino A. Palafox, Jr. 

The ambitious concept can be realized by allocating a portion of the city to the working class, Mr. Palafox told BusinessWorld.

Individuals working in Makati City, the country’s financial hub, spend an average of three to five hours daily coming to and from work, he noted.

“Fifteen minutes is the threshold of an ideal city — a 15-minute city with five-minute neighborhoods and 10-minute communities.”

Carlos Moreno, a scientific director and professor specializing in complex systems and innovation at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, devised the concept aimed at improving quality of life by designing cities where everything a resident needs can be reached within 15 minutes by foot or bike.

Mr. Palafox suggests allocating a part of a city to individuals and families of different ages and income levels to address concerns that segregated neighborhoods imposed by technocratic and colonial planning may be further alienated by gentrification. 

He noted that housing for the urban poor is subsidized in places like Vienna and Manhattan, to the point where it is possible for a secretary to live right next door to an NBA player.

“If you give me a big eraser to do BGC [Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City, Metro Manila] again, I would have allocated 30% for employees. There was an opportunity to do so because it was government land,” Mr. Palafox said.

“The biggest landowner is the government, so maybe it should start allocating land for self-contained cities that are mixed-income and cross-generational.” 

Mr. Palafox, who walks about 7,000 steps when in Manhattan and Dubai, said the Philippine capital lacks transportation and connectivity.

Only about 2% of Filipinos own cars, Mr. Palafox said, adding, “Those who have less wheels should have more roads.”

To make the idea a reality, there must be strong political will, he stressed.

He said the Philippines will need to create 100 new cities by 2050, or existing cities “will become as bad, if not worse,” than Metro Manila, as well as address urban sprawl to avoid encroaching on forests and farms.

At the same time, he emphasized the importance of developers avoiding siloed planning.

The concept plan for Rockwell, Makati — one of Mr. Palafox’s firm’s projects — was “up to EDSA, Buendia, and across the river.”

“When we plan, we don’t treat our projects like an island. We look at the surrounding areas, and how [our projects] contribute to the neighborhood, community, and city,” he said.

“In our part of the world, it’s mostly short-term and opportunistic, not long-term and visionary,” he noted.

“Our country is so blessed… but [first] we have to address corruption towards good governance, criminality towards better peace and order, and inequality, infrastructure, and incompetence.” 

Interview and text: Patricia B. Mirasol
Videography: Joseph Emmanuel L. Garcia
Video editing: Earl R. Lagundino