Dispatches from the Future

logo

Words by

Your alarm buzzes just as you finish brushing your teeth. Time to head to work, your watch display reads out. You pop on your earphones and give them a quick tap, prompting your morning briefing. Team meeting at 9:30 a.m. — cutting it a little close this morning. You stuff a sandwich in your bag and head out the door.

As you make your way down the block, you pass a queue of people lining up to board the bus headed into the city. One man thumbs his resident I.D. card, marking him as a tenant of one of the many townhouses in your neighborhood. As he boards the bus, he taps the I.D. against a terminal. The screen flashes green, and he makes his way down the aisle to his seat.

A few meters ahead of the bus station you see the neat row of bicycles docked onto one of the city’s countless bike-share racks. A delivery drone whizzes overhead. In the near distance, a handful of others dart across the sky, making their own deliveries. Beneath the sidewalk, you feel the rumble of the massive rovers ferrying trash through underground tunnels. At the bike rack, you whip out your own I.D., hold it against the dock, and watch as your chosen bike disengages. You walk it over to the end of the block before hopping on and veering over to the designated bike lane leading out of your neighborhood.

It’s been a couple years since your family moved to Iloilo from Metro Manila, a homecoming your Ilonggo mother had been planning for decades. It wasn’t until a new development project promising a “Smart City in the Heart of the Philippines” was announced that she decided it was time. Today, New Iloilo City joins the ranks of a dozen or so smart cities spread all across the Philippines, all cropping up at the turn of the decade.

In 2018, Manila was ranked the world’s densest city, with the greater urban area home to over 20 million people. The megalopolis’ clogged arteries meant billions in lost revenues, countless hours of wasted productivity, and terrible living conditions for the majority not living in the walled-off subdivisions that peppered the metro.

Today, Metro Manila is liveable again — the population nearly halved since its peak over a decade ago. Headlines called it a “mass exodus”. The country’s largest developers partnered with local government units to build out sprawling new townships in key areas outside of the capital region. The response was massive and immediate, with millions of Manileños leaping at the opportunity.




Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna were popular destinations, close enough to the capital to stay connected. But eventually, cities in Pampanga, Cebu, and Davao began growing as well. Prominent road networks in these regions meant they were accessible, developments easily scalable. By design, these cities were self-sufficient. Residential, commercial, and industrial zones were clearly marked out and interconnected via roadways and mass transit systems.

Pretty soon, proximity to Metro Manila was no longer a concern. La Union, Naga, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Cagayan de Oro saw their own influx of new residents. Developers like Megaworld began getting creative with their townships: building “liveable art parks” and “liveable food parks”, tapping famous artists, architects, and restaurateurs to create unique residential projects catering to niche communities. You recall your father suggesting an Amorsolo-inspired township an further out of the city proper, but convenience and accessibility ultimately won out. It was a bit too rural for your taste, in any case.

The opportunity to build entirely new cities and districts from the ground up meant future-facing developers could design them for the future. Taking the lead of firms like Google-subsidiary Sidewalk Labs, places like New Iloilo City have become global case studies for what a marriage of new technology and human-centered design could accomplish.

IoT-enabled beacons and sensors were literally built into the city, surveilling intersections and collecting traffic, air quality, noise, and occupancy readings from buildings, bridges, roads, and sidewalks. Today, that means truly responsive systems for traffic control, flood monitoring, building safety, and the like.

Even your bicycle is connected to this system, joining a network of shared bikes providing real time analytics on where, when, and how they’re being used. The city’s autonomous taxis use a similar platform, communicating with traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, and other cars to determine the best and safest routes for their daily journeys.

And in response to a citizen-led inquiry about the ethics of collecting this information, privacy laws and data trusts were established in each major township, keeping the monitoring system accountable for all the terabytes of data produced.

Fifteen minutes into your commute, you pump your brakes and turn back towards the sidewalk. Ahead of you is a massive intersection joining two major highways and a few diversion roads. Above the stretch of highway, a two-storey structure extending all the way into the central business district. You walk your bike up a ramp and onto the first level of the steel structure. A train pulls up to the elevated train station, and people begin filing in. You take one more ramp up to the top of the structure, a long walkway lined with greenery. Covering the expanse of the highway, the path is shared by pedestrians and cyclists alike. Straight ahead of you, a kiosk. You walk over and buy a bottle of water, paying with a tap of your watch against the cashier’s tablet.

The top floor of this highway superstructure connects various major community centers in New Iloilo City. Major malls, train stations, the sports complex and concert grounds — turning the entire road network into a massive central park. Jutting out like fins along the edges of the walkway are long stretches of solar panels built on hinges that pivot with the sun. These, along with the handful of solar farms in the outskirts of the city, provide a large chunk of power to New Iloilo City’s grid.

For years, private citizens have been installing solar panels on their rooftops, partnering with companies like First Philippine Solar Rooftops to cut annual electricity costs by up to forty percent. But city-wide solar grids were a moonshot only up until recently, when increasing government pressure to adopt renewable energy sources drove demand high enough to allow manufacturers to scale up production and produce in bulk. Slowly at first, then all at once, cities weaned off traditional energy sources, opting for renewable ones.

Gliding down the garden path, you watch the number of towering buildings around you begin to multiply, until you’re cutting through New Iloilo City’s skyline. All around you are young professionals walking, biking, scootering to work. Your watch buzzes as notifications start coming in. You slow down to swipe through them, hopping off your bike again to walk it down the exit ramps. On your way, you pass by a group of teenagers in uniforms headed to school in the city.

As townships like this began to swell in popularity, private universities began opening new campuses at the heart of these booming developments. Ateneo de La Union University. FEU-Cebu. UST-Bacolod. Families from surrounding regions no longer had to look all the way to places like Manila or Davao for quality education. There was always a new satellite campus cropping up somewhere close by..

With families drawn in by the schools and holistic communities, local governments led the charge in attracting big businesses by establishing special economic zones within these new cities. International companies set up satellite offices throughout the country. Top firms relocated out of Metro Manila. Public support allowed new startups to sprout and thrive.

New Iloilo City was born out of the local government’s desire to ride on the momentum of the booming business outsource processing sector, attracting new residents and boosting the local economy. But following massive improvements in telco offerings and the embracing of flexible work arrangements across firms nationwide, the city saw droves of new residents from across various industries. Many of your friends work out of the countless coffee shops-cum-coworking spaces in the central business district, reporting remotely to bosses based all over the world.

Your design firm, a collective of multimedia artists doing brand development for small and medium enterprises, is based out of a dedicated office in one of these coworking spaces. You steer your bike off the main road, towards a strip of cafes and restaurants in a prominent lifestyle mall downtown. Past the chapels and gardens. Past the bustling dog park. You dock your bike into the bike-share terminal, and make your way into the cafe to start your day.

 

Editor’s Note: As we hurtle into the fourth industrial age, business leaders and new entrants alike have obsessed over the disrupting forces of technology, leading to fragmented views of where we’re all headed. To help set the course, SparkUp consulted experts and futurists to explore a world set one decade from today, where today’s cutting edge trends have become our shared reality. This piece of speculative fiction hopes to inspire readers to build towards a world where technology is seen as an augmenting — and not disrupting — force to human work.



Advertisement