Ten thousand years ago, humans lived as small, nomadic groups, wandering the land in search of animals to hunt or crops to harvest. Five thousand years ago, we learned the secrets of domestication and farming, and began to settle down in villages, aided by the discovery of irrigation. With the development of trade and the advent of technology, civilizations flourished, and ever since then, more and more people began to settle down in cities. Yet in recent years, a new problem has begun to emerge, threatening societies all around the world.
As recently as the 1960’s, only one out of every three people lived in a city, with the rest sticking to scattered rural communities. Yet with the various technologies and services brought by the Industrial Revolution, people began embracing an urban lifestyle. The ratio quickly increased to two out of five in the mid-1980’s, and by 2010, the urban population had already surpassed its rural counterpart. Cities were growing, and they were growing fast: often much, much faster than they could adapt, proliferating sprawling, often low-density communities in the immediate areas.
Our cities undoubtedly urbanized, but many did not become more livable.
In analyzing the lifestyle encouraged by the modern urban sprawls, wherein cities get segregated into isolated sectors based on their ‘function’ (e.g. economical or residential), it becomes clear that superficial order is severely outweighed by the inefficiency and cumbersomeness of the residents’ lifestyles. This is exemplified by the long distances people living in the outskirts need to travel just to get to school or to work; for instance, people living in Mintal, Toril, Lanang, or Panacan need to allocate at least two hours a day solely for their commute. More time is spent on these problems, leaving less time to live.
Urban livability—a blanket term that generally refers to how well suited an urban community is to support the population—essentially measures how well a city creates opportunities for quality human life. In most cases, cities are evaluated according to its stability, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and culture. Additionally, they can also be evaluated according to how efficient or economical their transportation is, how affordable and equitable their housing is, and how well they support all people from all walks of life. Finally, the economy should also be competitive, promoting growth, and its government should be transparent and readily accountable (Economic Intelligence Unit, n.d.; Herrman & Lewis, 2017).
Globally, cities like Vienna, Austria and Melbourne, Australia are models of urban livability, stealing the top spots on the EIU’s Global Liveability Index; Vienna boasts inclusive social housing and economical public transportation, while Melbourne takes pride in its high quality education and healthcare systems (Dudley, 2019; Invest Victoria, 2019). Domestically, the cities of Bacolod and Davao also strive to become model cities of livability. Bacolod has been recognized as the most business-friendly city in recent years, attracting numerous businessmen and investors, while Davao has become known for its orderliness and enticing prospects.
In contrast, the issues that both plague and characterize less livable cities are often similar, if not outright the same. Businesses and shops are concentrated in certain areas, forcing people from all over the city to congregate rather than spreading them out across sectors. Transportation systems are inefficient, often allocating most of the road space to the private vehicle minority rather than to public transportation or bicycles. Almost none of the important destinations are within walking distance of major transit hubs either, worsening the time wasted on commutes and traffic jams.
While all these issues together may seem insurmountable, they are not impossible to overcome step by step. In Davao City, for example, while the problem of segregated and isolated districts still persists, operative malls and other commercial buildings are now slowly being established in less urbanized districts, such as Toril and Tugbok, which are situated at a great distance from the city proper. Even if localized communities have not yet been fully realized, residents of these far-flung residential communities now have to travel a great deal less to acquire whatever they need.
With this, the youth, for better or for worse, hold a pivotal role in the development of sustainable and livable cities. As the generation with the highest stakes in the livability of urban communities, it falls to the aspiring architects, planners, and government officials to guide urbanization down the right path. In our unwritten futures, we hold the blank slates necessary to transition to and accept revolutionary new practices in urban design and lifestyle. With the advantages we have in the form of cutting-edge technology and building practices, coupled with our knowledge of the past and vision for our future, there is no one better suited to make urban cities more livable.
(This essay won in the Write and Design for Nature contest organized by IDIS in partnership with Mindanao Times)
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