Why cities make sense (Part 2)

(Published in The Freeman, June 1, 2012)

Initially, the fact that agglomeration of population results in more efficient settlements introduces the idea of zoning.  Placing more people together in a small area made the cost of delivering the “common” services cheaper.  The idea of “piped” water systems evolved.  While before, each family has to dig their own wells, a community may just construct one well and then place pipes to each individual homes.  Same thing with electricity – imagine how costly (and wasteful) it would be if each of us will have to buy our own generator.

 Later, man ventured into trading, which started the first economies.  As people started to specialize (some are farmers, other are bakers, tailors, shoemakers, etc.), and as the economy diversified from plain farming, markets emerged, especially during the feudal period, when merchants became the primary drivers of progress.  Markets are the precursor of the modern commercial districts and malls.  But man still preferred to live together and do business somewhere else.  Thus, commercial districts were designed separate from the bunch of houses where families lived, which, years later is called the residential area.

 The industrial revolution brought about another set of economic activities much more profitable than trading.  Industrialization is based on mass production – the manufacture of things in bulk which made the cost of items per unit cheap.  Now, everything are made in factories, where millions are produced at a fraction of what it would have cost had individual items been made.  The need to maximize the use of space and making more efficient the production processes paved the way for the “assembly line.”  Another area has to be set aside – the “industrial” zone, set aside apart from the “residential” and “commercial” zones.

 The problem which arose from this initial disaggregation of activities and zones was that people need to travel from one zone to another.  In the past, the rudiments of land use and zoning dictated that a city (or town or settlement) be divided into the basic residential, commercial, and industrial zones, with some other smaller zones.  This gave rise to the yellow, red, blue and other color-coding that most planners memorize and which you can see on the walls of most city planning offices.  But usually, planners zone a city into one residential area, a commercial area, an industrial area, etc.  Check a zoning map of some towns in the Philippines – you may still see these maps.

 The integration of transport and land use calls for a minimization of travel or trips.  In the smaller, more compact cities of Europe, we can see self-contained communities, where your bakery, convenience store, arcades, etc. are just around the corner.  In bigger cities sometimes, you have to ride a bus or a train just to buy bread.  Isn’t it true that most of us nowadays go to the mall to buy things, sometimes going to another mall halfway across the city to buy other things?  And why do we need to go to Canduman just to attend elementary or high school?  Okay not a good example – that’s an exclusive school, and the rich people can do what they like.  But do the not-so-wealthy travel from Talamban to downtown Cebu City just to attend high school.  Or why do some poor kids in certain barangays walk or hitchhike their way to attend elementary schools in another barangay?

Merely examples here, but this is the state of 99% of the world’s cities – too many and too much travel time because we didn’t integrate land use and transport in the past.  Current solutions are adjustments in nature but at least the awareness is there.  Those cities which are still small should have the chance of learning from the mistakes of the bigger, older ones. (To be continued…)