Articles by: Judy Baker

Unlocking the Philippines’ urbanization potential

Fostering Livable Cities

The Philippines is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in East Asia and the Pacific. This can bring many opportunities for growth and poverty reduction. Cities become engines of growth if well planned and well managed.

Rapid urbanization in the Philippines has brought new jobs, educational opportunities, and better living conditions for some. However, it has also brought challenges, which you’ll see when you move around the streets of Metro Manila. It’s a large sprawling metropolitan area of over 12 million, with congestion that is estimated to cost US$70 million (₱3.5 billion) a day. When it rains, streets and homes are quickly flooded because many drains are clogged or non-existent. Because of lack of affordable housing, an estimated 11 percent of the city’s population live in slums. With 17 cities and municipalities in the metropolitan area, trying to tackle these challenges becomes stuck in deep complexities of urban governance and management. While other cities in the Philippines don’t face the scale of these challenges, they tackle similar issues.

Why are things so complex? There are a number of underlying structural issues affecting urbanization in the Philippines, such as the country’s archipelagic geography which creates divisions in connectivity both within the country and to external markets; a stagnating manufacturing sector that has not resulted in high quality jobs and, in turn, has negatively affected urban-led growth; and the country’s high exposure to natural hazards, particularly flooding and earthquake risks, all of which exacerbate urban management challenges.

Beyond these key structural issues are two binding constraints which, unlike the structural issues, can be addressed through a bold reform agenda. These include fragmented institutional arrangements for urban development and metropolitan governance, and major shortcomings in land administration and management. The resulting impacts of these issues, coupled with rapid urbanization, have greatly hampered city competitiveness, job creation, poverty reduction and livability.  

That said, there are reasons for optimism. One only has to look at the vibrant private sector and development of urban areas such as Bonifacio Global City in Metro Manila, the Iloilo Business Park in the Visayas island, and a number of other successful programs in towns and cities to know what is possible.

The recently completed report Philippines Urbanization Review, Fostering a System of Competitive, Sustainable and Inclusive Cities, sets forth priorities for a bold reform agenda in i) addressing the binding constraints of weak institutions to improve the delivery of necessary infrastructure, services and sustainable urban planning, and ii) improving land administration management to open up land markets for city competitiveness. Other key priorities call for investments in infrastructure, particularly more affordable mass transport such as metro rail transit and bus rapid transit systems, simplification of licensing requirements to attract more investment, a focus on affordable housing and the delivery of basic services, and encouraging poor children to finish secondary education for better job opportunities.

If key stakeholders in the Philippines, namely government, the private sector, and civil society -working in partnership – can take on these challenges with a needed urgency for action starting with top priorities, there is so much that is possible. Cities can indeed become engines for competitive, sustainable and inclusive growth, giving residents new opportunities with the potential for lasting impact.  

by · Wednesday, 20 September 2017 · Philippines
Competitive Cities: A Game Changer for Malaysia

Competitive Cities: A Game Changer for Malaysia

Photo: mozakim/bigstock

As an upper-middle income country with a majority of its population living in cities, Malaysia is situated among the countries that prove urbanization is key to achieving high-income status. Asking “How can we benefit further from urbanization?” Malaysian policymakers have identified competitive cities as a game changer in the 11th Malaysia Plan. To this end, the World Bank has worked with the government to better understand issues of urbanization and formulate strategies for strengthening the role of cities through the report, “Achieving a System of Competitive Cities in Malaysia.”

While Malaysia’s cities feature strong growth, low poverty rates, and wide coverage of basic services and amenities, challenges still remain. 

Its larger cities are characterized by urban sprawl, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, where population density is low for an Asian metropolis. This inefficient urban form results in high transport costs and negative environmental impacts. This is matched by low economic density, indicating Malaysia’s cities can do better in maximizing the economic benefits from urban agglomeration.  

A second challenge hampering Malaysia’s cities is the highly centralized approach to urban management and service delivery, a system that impedes the local level, and obstructs service delivery and effective implementation of urban and spatial plans.

Third is a growing recognition of the importance of promoting social inclusion to ensure that the benefits of urbanization are widely shared.

Thus, a set of key recommendations have been identified to increase the competitiveness of Malaysia’s cities:

  • Foster Urban Economic Growth: Encouraging more flexible and efficient utilization of land, and coordinating this with the development of connective infrastructure could increase economic density in many Malaysian cities. To improve efficiency, incentives can be provided to cluster services and knowledge-based sectors in large cities, while systematically relocating land-intensive manufacturing industries to smaller cities and towns. Initiatives to repurpose old industrial districts could include catalytic projects to make the city’s spatial structure more efficient, livable and sustainable.
  • Ensure urban environmental sustainability: Furthering the use of public transport would reduce pollution, sprawl and congestion.  Integrating climate change and risk-reduction considerations into urban planning and management would increase urban resilience in Malaysia’s cities.
  • Strengthen institutions for city competitiveness: To increase the effectiveness and efficiency of urban service delivery in Malaysia, management and decision-making roles could be shifted to local level, particularly for areas such as: intra-urban highways and federal intra-urban roads; public transportation; drainage and flood mitigation; and solid waste management.  Investing in building capacity at the local level, and revising the system of fiscal transfers to local authorities to be more transparent, predictable and formula-based would help strengthen local service delivery. 
  • Foster social inclusion: Strengthening programs for at-risk urban youth would help to prevent school dropouts and encourage entry into the labor market. Social inclusion can be facilitated through better spatial integration of housing and transport, while safe neighborhood programs can foster a sense of belonging which may have powerful impacts on Malaysian youth.  
  • Promote innovation through information:  Accessing data in Malaysia has historically been difficult.  Providing more open access to data can create new business opportunities, help solve civic problems, and allow Malaysia to benefit from data-enabled urban management. More could be done to use the data to facilitate collaborative decision-making among government agencies and between government and citizens, ultimately enhancing the competitiveness of cities.

Many of the changes identified involve shifting from existing norms and require sustained efforts and political will to implement. The benefits for Malaysia would far outweigh the costs as it offers opportunities to harness the benefits of urbanization and achieve a system of competitive, sustainable and inclusive cities.

by · Tuesday, 4 July 2017 · Malaysia