Manila is the new darling of investors today. It’s an emerging city for investors. More and more tourists are visiting the nation’s capital.

In the past, it was known as the “Pearl of the Orient.” A beautiful city with fantastic architecture designs. It was a beautiful and clean city. It was believed to become an international city.

Daniel Burnham and his urban planning for Manila.(Photo source:

Daniel Burnham and his urban planning for Manila.
(Photo source:

But problems came pouring in and deteriorated the city. Poor urban planning caused the city major problems.

One of the comments of a reader of a major newspaper commented that “If only the Burnham Plan was executed entirely, Manila would have still been a Pearl of the Orient.”

He was referring to the urban plan of Daniel Burnham, who also planned the city of Chicago, for Manila. The Burnham Plan, which is named for Burnham’s grand master plan for Manila, was once called as “A miracle by an Alladin” by the London Times. The Burnham Plan was to create Manila as a “Paris on the Prarie.”

But, President Quezon’s decision doomed the Burnham Plan. He decided to use the fund for irrigation instead because rice fields were more important than grand structures of Manila. And also, he established a city outside Manila named after him- Quezon City.

Today, what everyone sees in Metro Manila is different from Chicago. One of the factors is the degree of poor urban planning, urban poverty, and scarcity of social facilities.

One newspaper in the past branded the city as “After beautiful sunsets, a dark, dangerous city.” Truth hurts but it’s true.

Metro Manila before.

Metro Manila before.

Metro Manila has serious social, infrastructure, and environmental problems in the areas of land, water, air, sewerage, drainage, waste, and traffic.

Land use in Metro Manila has been largely shaped by the activities of the private sector. Due to speculation, land prices have risen by 100-200%, thereby reducing access to affordable housing in the city.

Metro Manila has a water supply system that is unsatisfactory, with a distribution system that is unable to reach much of the population on the periphery of the city. Water pumps are being used, which is increasing pollution in the water supply.

This city has an extremely inadequate sewerage system. In total, about 11% of the population of Metro Manila is served by piped sewerage. The majority of sewage is conveyed through open ditches and canals untreated into Manila Bay. Pasig River is already branded as a dead river and one of the most polluted rivers.

Air pollution is another major environmental problem, accounted for by motor vehicles and industry waste.

The huge amounts of solid waste produced by the city each day often clogs the poor drainage pipeline and causes eventual flooding.

As with most other metropolitan cities, Metro Manila suffers from serious traffic congestion. Among the causes of traffic problems includes undisciplined drivers, illegal terminals, buses blocking Edsa, drivers not following the traffic rues, etc.

Crimes in the city are always a problem with constant trouble, shootings, murders, robberies, break-ins, drug buys, and carnapping and carjacking. Criminals don’t only strike Filipinos but foreigners as well. This criminals-victimizing-foreigner creates a bad image for the Philippines because it will drive away tourists.

Behind every beautiful trees, structures, etc hides a badly built shacks of squatters and piles of garbage rot along the streets and also, in the sea wall of Manila Bay where tourists and Filipinos alike watches one of the beautiful sunset known in the world.

Structures around the city are non-friendly and unusable for persons with disabilities. Many PWDs are clamoring for the implementation of Batas Pambansa 344, also called as Accessibility Law. Yet, their calls are fallen into deaf ears, with the government as the number 1 violator of the BP 344 because they failed to implement it.

In a past article, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, November 19, 1989, it said “Manila is beautiful only at night because then you do not see the scars. You do not see the scarred buildings. You do not see the scarred streets. You do not see the wounded looks in its in-habitants’ eyes, or the poisoned air. If wounds and scars are symptoms of death, then the city of Manila could be dying.”

In an another article, Philippine Daily Inquirer dated October 10, 1989, a sociologist said that all problems of the metropolis, the stink of garbage blended with factory smoke, the continual flooding in low areas, the violence in the streets and the “assorted crimes” are all just a matter of size or over-size: “There are just too many people in Metro Manila, particularly in the core city, for comfort.”

The international image of Metro Manila is deterrent to tourism if these problems continue to exist. Government should do a new urban planning. This time, they should focus on proper urban planning and have a master plan like Burnham Plan.

Architect Paulo Alcazaren, reported in his Philippine Star article, “The ghost of master plans past,” that Metro Manila had 14 master plans on urban planning starting in 1870 and none of them was ever implemented!

Metro Manila today.

Metro Manila today.

Among the reasons for its non-implementation were government corruption, politics, and greed of real estate speculators.

Without any master plan, Metro Manila’s problems will not be solved. It has become a region that, although relatively affluent, offers majority of its residents a poor quality of life that is aggravated by unmitigated blight and uncontrolled development.

“Our population growth rate is still off the charts and, in light of yearly disasters, mismanaged government and dwindling resources, is not sustainable without sacrificing even the most basic levels of quality of life,” the article reads.

Mr. Alcazaren suggested that the next plan for Metro Manila, which can be probably the 15th plan since 1870, should be carried out in its entirety in order to work.

Another architect, Jun Palafox said that Metro Manila has been using the “wrong models” in urban planning.

The world-renowned architect and urban planner said that Metro Manila should have planned the urban planning similar Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore instead of becoming a low-rise, sprawling community that is patterned after Los Angeles, USA.

He also mentioned that “disaster prevention measures must also involve a comprehensive urban planning.”

He has been giving recommendations to the past Philippine administrations, a total of 83 urban planning recommendations, for free as a sign of “patriotic architecture.”

Because of the reports of the two well-known architects in our land, the evolution of Metro Manila is due to lacking of master plan and direct urban planning and development.

The real estate sectors are also in one to help in urban planning because “The Philippines has one of the highest urban growth rates among developing countries.”

Victor J. Asuncion, Director for Research and Consultancy at CB Richard Ellis Philippines, Inc., shared that in Metro Manila, more condominiums are arising while low cost residential properties are growing in nearby provinces because of the rapid population growth in the Philippine capital.

“If you want affordable housing, you can have this but it will be outside Metro Manila. An example will be the Amaia housing project of Ayala Land in Calamba which is about 50 kilometers away from the Makati central business district. However, if you want affordable vertical condominiums, then you can choose among the projects of Amaia Land which is also into affordable condominium development. DMCI Homes, Phinma Properties and New San Jose Builders have projects that are still within Metro Manila but only in peripheral areas,” said Asuncion.


Mr. Ramon CF Cuervo III discussing with Arch. Jun Palafox, Jun Dulalia,a dn other leaders of real estate industry on his practical inputs in addressing the need of Manila's urban renewal as a business opportunity.

Mr. Ramon CF Cuervo III discussing with Arch. Jun Palafox, Jun Dulalia, and other leaders of real estate industry on his practical inputs in addressing the need of Manila’s urban renewal as a business opportunity.

In an interview with Ramon CF Cuervo III, he stressed that the private and business sectors, particularly Realtors, builders and professionals in real estate, are committed to do their part in Manila’s urban redevelopment.

Cuervo was the Conference Chairman during the “Business Opportunities in Manila’s urban renewal” held last 2005, which is also a part of former Mayor, Lito Atienza’s “Buhayin ang Maynila” program.

Among the key real estate professionals that attended are Palafox, Arch. Deogracias Tablan, Mr. Roberto Amores, Mr. Joey Antonio, Ms. Ma. Corazon Arambulo, and Arch. Nathaniel Von Einsiedel.

“It was the first ever to be carried out by a realty board in advocacy to urban redevelopment and in cooperation with a local government unit, the City Government of Manila,” he said. “Our objective is to jumpstart economic activity and generates active development in building on idle and poorly utilized properties into its Highest and Best Use with Widest Distribution.”

The conference was a success because it has spawned the culture of involvement and cooperation between the government and private sector as what Mr. Cuervo described as “an unprecedented initiative, indeed in the area of realtorism.”

The national government should work hand-in-hand with local government units to form a master plan for Metro Manila and encourage self-reliance and active participation of citizens.

The Burnham Plan never failed because it was not carried out to its entirety. If only it was followed, we have a beautiful city, a city with the style of Romans that suited our temper perfectly and we created a structure that had grace and dignity.

With sources from:

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