In 1961, a book published by urban sociologist Jane Jacobs titled The Death and Life of Great American Cities stated that cities need to be diverse to encourage vibrant activity.
To become diverse, a city has to satisfy these 4 conditions. First, city districts need to serve more than one purpose to attract people with different purposes at different times. Next, the city blocks need to be small with dense intersections to allow pedestrians to interact. Another condition is for buildings to be diverse in terms of age and form to support tenants with both low and high incomes. Lastly, there should be a high population density to support a large variety of types of business ideas such as restaurants, clothing, etc.
In the Philippines, its fast-growing central business districts seem to be displaying most, if not all of these characteristics. These vibrant cities, as shown in our latest Office Briefing, show consistent growth in rental rates with low vacancies.
Using Jacobs' conditions, Makati CBD is arguably the most vibrant city in the country. Known as the major financial district of the Philippines, Makati is one of the densest areas especially on the weekdays, as it is home to businesses of all sizes and from various industries, driving both expats from different countries and locals across the country to find business opportunities and employment.
Established since the 1960s, Makati CBD has a mix of old and new buildings. Most of the older buildings are located in the Chino Roces and Buendia area, housing several of the older Filipino companies and SMEs, while the more high-end developments, such as the upcoming Grade A Insular Life Center and the premium Zuellig Building are closer to the Ayala Avenue and Makati Avenue sections. The city is also one of the first planned developments in the country, which is why it has small city blocks with dense intersections, making it walkable and pedestrian-friendly.
In terms of diversity, compared to other cities in the Philippines, Makati houses more choices in food and entertainment. The city houses a lot of restaurants from different cuisines, ranging from the popular Asian restaurants to Mediterranean and Western options.
However, traffic has become a vast concern in Makati. The small areas and high density of cars, jeepneys, and buses plying its main roads has made going in and around the major CBD difficult, especially during rush hours.
Ortigas Center in Pasig is also a major CBD in the country with relatively vibrant activity, although its size is relatively smaller than Makati. Ortigas Center is also a planned development, thus it is also pedestrian-friendly and has small blocks as well. Because it borders Marikina, Pasig, Taguig, and Quezon City, the CBD offers accessibility to a diverse group of citizens and talents. This accessibility has also driven both young and mature businesses to the area ranging from multinational firm Maersk, local giants Meralco and San Miguel Corporation to young tech firms such as OLX.ph and Voyager Innovations.
However, like Makati, Ortigas Center also experiences heavy traffic, and going in and out of the city can be a challenge especially in rush hour.
Another key city that shows signs of vibrance is Quezon City. While the city is composed of different mini-townships, Quezon City is a melting pot of locals from different areas, as it is home to some of the largest universities in the Philippines: University of the Philippines-Diliman and Ateneo de Manila University. The abundance of its young talent makes QC a main location choice among BPO firms (ranging from start-ups to larger firms) and is quickly attracting both foreign and local investors to locate within its borders.
However, compared to Makati City and Ortigas, Quezon City has larger city blocks and might not be as pedestrian-friendly, mainly because it is a lot larger than the latter. This size might not be bad after all, because its accessibility may be one factor contributing to its diversity in terms of talent.
Bonifacio Global City (BGC) might not fit most of the conditions because it is a new CBD with new and higher-priced supply; however, the city continues to drive people from different cities to work in the area as it is home to several promising businesses of all sizes. A lot of multinational firms have also started building new headquarters in the area. In terms of residential options, BGC is often a top choice because the area does not flood easily, including its neighboring areas.
What Makes a City Vibrant in PH
Given this, it is possible that BGC is also vibrant in a different way, and may serve as a guide on how we should define a vibrant city in PH. While Jacobs may have enumerated valid points in making a vibrant city, the definition of the factors needs to be changed in the Philippines. For developing countries, the major considerations should not only be limited to these; rather, it is also important to look at the existing technological and transport infrastructure and policies in doing business. These two factors are more important than checking the way city blocks are designed and planned or how diverse a city is.
A vibrant city in the Philippines, aside from having reliable infra and ease in doing business, also needs to have effective disaster reduction and risk management teams in place, especially since the country is frequently hit by typhoons every year. A vibrant city shouldn't flood so easily as suspending work due to floods hampers business productivity and increases loss for enterprises.
Ease in transport to and from a location is also one aspect to look at, as the city vibrance is highly dependent on the economic and social activities of its citizens. The quality of life of people is largely influenced by the city's health and no matter how diverse the city may be, without the proper policies and infrastructure in place, a well-planned, vibrant community might prove itself ineffective.
The Philippines has promising cities but are exposed to several risks. Economic activity is strong but the government needs to address these risks ASAP to ensure their growth and development into vibrant cities in the long-term.