Land Use and Transport

Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), Dec. 8, 2011

Sim City fans probably know about it. Or at least, they know how it works, even if the science maybe the farthest from their minds. Of course, its just a game so who cares about theories … the objective is to create the best city there is, … and if you commit a mistake, delete the city and start all over again. Only that Sim City players seem to be a threatened specie, the game do not even have updates anymore, and slowly being overshadowed by Farmville – and hundreds of other Facebook-based games which waste a lot of our productive time. Not only the games but Facebook itself does. At least Sim City builds cities! Farmville builds farms … y’know, you plant vegetables and tend animals … they say its good for hypertension!

Land use and transport, which many people talk about nowadays, is what I was referring to as what Sim City players know intuitively. More often than not, they “learn” it by trial and error, not through doctoral dissertations. Its so easy to delete something in the computer – one click is all you need. Unfortunately, we can’t do the same in real cities, you get stuck up with what you have for decades. But urban landscape do change, more often reactive rather than planned, usually accompanied by the usual debate about why we didn’t have an integrated land use and transport planning in the first place. The rest of the population, the majority whose lives are most affected, wonders … then go about their usual daily lives.

How can land use and transport be explained in simplest terms? Let me try. Suppose Metro Cebu is an empty space. Then we try to zone like this: Talisay is Residential, Cebu is Commercial, Mandaue is Industrial, and Lapu-lapu is Recreational. Completely. Then we have 2 million people living in Talisay, who wake up in the morning and travel to Mandaue to work. The 2 million people travel back to Talisay in the evening to sleep, maybe passing through Cebu to shop, go to the bank, have a haircut, or have some fun. On weekends, the 2 million people go to Lapu-lapu to jetski and have picnics. In order to do that, you need to havea road network that can carry 2 million people in say, 2 hours travel time, maybe less.

It’s absurd, I know. So let’s try another tack. Why not zone each of the 4 cities so that each will have residential, commercial, industrial, and recreational areas? Bingo! Then we don’t to travel far anymore. In fact, we need not travel outside of our own cities. So you don’t need roads to connect the 4 cities … you need smaller roads within the cities, not highway corridors – called “arterial roads” by transport scientists. You don’t even need the two Mandaue-Mactan bridges!

That’s oversimplistic, of course, but that’s exactly how it works! The way cities are planned with their land uses (or zoning), would mean either a minimal and efficient transport system or a huge gigantic traffic jam. People talk about self-contained communities in aspirational terms, not in real terms because the real world is different. But as the term implies, aspirational is something we aspire for, either for new, greenfield cities, or even centuries-old ancient metropolises which evolved over the ages. And this is just one side of the coin – the effect of land use on transport, the other side is the effect of transport on land use, which we will discuss at a later time.

Somewhere in between is the real world. It’s a small consolation to note that nowhere in the planet is there a perfect land use and transport system. Some cities are better that others. Oftentimes, historical and cultural issues and a host of others come into play. It’s not a perfect world. Well, maybe in Sim City, it might be possible. But I doubt it.


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