By Yen Flores, BCRUPD Project Coordinator, UN-Habitat

I am a “southie.” 

I reside in a suburb south of Greater Metro Manila. In a way, I shall admit that where I live now is part of the rapid urban sprawl in the country that happened quickly in the last three decades.

What could have been an hour’s worth of travel time from home to my office near EDSA Mandaluyong stretches to two hours– just one and a half hours, if I get lucky. The same goes when I head back. Needless to say, this is among the most challenging parts of my daily work routine.

Every day is a struggle with the lengthy commute and the headache-inducing traffic congestion. Mixed with even just a bit of rain, going to work and making my way back home can get really… agonizing. I am talking about traversing flooded streets, long queues at terminals, vehicles at a standstill on the road – you get the picture.

On most days, I feel the intense urban heat. As we increase our land use development, many of our remaining open and green areas get compromised. I can just imagine how people in Metro Manila with a population density of 20,785 people per square kilometer cope with this urban sauna resulting from too many cemented roads and streets, large and crowded buildings. This is a pressing issue, too, as the projected increase in temperature due to climate change can make this scenario a lot more challenging.

Of course, not everything about these recent changes is too grim. On a brighter side, I am also happy to see the mushrooming of buildings and facilities that incorporate the technology of “green buildings.”

As I exit the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) towards north, the building of Eco-Plaza situated along Pasong Tamo Extension always catches my eye. It is indeed a nice green building fitted with green walls, solar panels and designed to maximize natural lighting. You will see more of these green buildings as you traverse the busy and congested, EDSA including the MMDA greening project, which features strips of plants lining the roads and tunnel entryways.

I commend the practitioners and proponents of green building initiatives and programs, both the private sector and the government entities. I have the confidence that they will succeed in their advocacies to make our buildings and facilities greener, energy-efficient, beautiful and environmentally friendly. I also admire the cause of the Philippine Green Building Council (PHILGBC) in pursuing solutions and adopting technologies that promote resource management efficiency, and at the same time, minimizing the negative impacts of buildings on the environment and to the health of people.

Last September 2018, the Climate Change Commission conducted a multi-stakeholder forum on “green building” at La Breza Hotel in Quezon City as an integral part of their series of roundtable discussions to update the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) and enhance the on-going recalculation and target setting process of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) on GHG emission. The Department of Public Works and Highways also approved their version of Green Building Code (June 2015), as a referral code of the National Building Code of the Philippines under P.D. 1096. Even at the local level, initiatives to promote the use of green buildings are expanding.

In 2009, the local government of Quezon City for example passed its Green Building Ordinance No. SP-1917, requiring the design, construction or retrofitting of buildings and other structures to meet minimum standards of a green infrastructure and providing incentives.

Perhaps green building initiatives are a few of the essential steps that our cities and towns must take in adapting to climate change, and even helping the transition process towards low carbon development.

But on a broader and long-term view, I'm also worried that weak urban planning and design can also disproportionately undermine the good intentions and benefits of green buildings. Unless our green building approach will be paired with good and efficient urban plan and design, our mission of achieving our GHG emission targets in the built areas will remain ineffective.

I strongly think that we should push further our thinking and efforts on green building by approaching this in a more holistic manner. If our cities are planned and managed in a way that it follows a compact, connected, integrated and climate- resilient design, then, this could be more impactful.

Moreover, we must maximize research and science in the country. We need to know and quantify the carbon foot print not only of our buildings, but also, our current urban forms and designs. We need to ask how much urban design or form can influence energy efficiency and climate mitigation in general.

The Philippine New Urban Agenda, 2016-2036 (NUA) and the National Urban Development and Housing Framework, 2017-2023, have likewise underscored the importance of “integrated settlements within coherent and efficient urban systems and forms across scales…” with “compact development and adequate networks of public and open spaces.”

We need to expand and deepen our planning approach. To pursue and sustain the benefits of green buildings, we need also to talk about the compelling issues of urban planning and design. Green building and good urban design when combined, reinforces each other. It is a very powerful synergy that we, as urbanites, should not miss the way we plan and manage our cities.

Photo by Rhiannon from CC0 and graphic by Canva.