Clean, green and safe: The Philippines’ first sustainable city to be built by 2022

The New Clark City promises an opportunity for people to live and work in a city that is safe, prosperous and sustainable while caring for the environment. But are Filipinos ready to do their part to make this happen?

rendering New Clark City
An artist's rendering of the New Clark City in the Philippines. Image: Surbana Jurong

A metropolis that is green and lush, where the air is clean, where it’s safe to walk or bike on the road, and where everyone feels like they belong.

This doesn’t sound like a city in the Philippines, but it soon will be, thanks to a new partnership between the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), Singaporean urban developer Surbana Jurong and Japan’s Overseas Infrastructure Investment for Transport and Urban Development (JOIN) to build the archipelago nation’s first smart, green, and disaster-resilient city. 

The project, which will be known as New Clark City, will be located in the vast flat lands of Capas and Bamban, Tarlac in central Luzon, and is envisioned to be completed in 2022.

The 9,450-hectare city located inside the Clark Special Economic Zone, will be on par with other modern cities in the world, according to project developers.

BCDA, Surbana Jurong and JOIN signed a memorandum of cooperation (MOC) last month signalling the official start of the development. The signing was led by BCDA president and chief executive officer Vivencio Dizon, JOIN president and chief executive officer Takuma Hatano, and Surbana Jurong group chief executive officer Wong Heang Fine.

Engineering and urban development firms AECOM, Nippon Koei and Philkoei International will also join the project as partners.

As part of the collaboration, Surbana Jurong will assist BCDA in creating the overall sustainable management framework for the city, which will feature a fully integrated infrastructure and utilities for power, water, sewerage, information and communication technology (ICT), security, and traffic management while ensuring environmental protection.

The city will ultimately bring about long-lasting economic and social benefits for the country.

Wong Heang Fine, group CEO, Surbana Jurong

The Singaporean urban developer will also help secure investors for the city’s development through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and will advise the pioneering developers on how to implement the plan. Pioneer developers include Filinvest Land, Inc., and Malaysia’s MTD Capital Berhad.

Wong Heang Fine, Surbana Jurong’s group chief executive officer, said the New Clark City has tremendous potential to bring about sustainable growth and create jobs locally.

“The city will ultimately bring about long-lasting economic and social benefits for the country,” Wong said in a statement.

JOIN on the other hand will lead the construction of the Manila-Clark Railway, which will be one of Japan’s biggest projects in the Philippines. The 106-kilometre railway will connect Tutuban, a major commercial and trade district in Manila, to the New Clark City and international airport, and is designed to shuttle up to 350,000 passengers a day.

Takuma Hatano, chief executive officer and president, JOIN, said the new railway will provide a more efficient and comfortable travel experience to commuters, a long-awaited relief in the country where riding jam-packed metro trains that often break down is the daily struggle of many Filipinos.

“The railway will immensely benefit commuters as it will cut down travel time from Manila to Clark to one hour, from the current two to three hours’ travel time,” Hatano said.

What having a smart city will mean to Filipinos

For Filipinos who contend with a host of economic and social issues every day, the idea of a sustainable city might be far-fetched, but this should not be so.

Thomas Tang, former sustainability director at AECOM who was involved in the planning stage of the New Clark City in 2015, said that Filipinos should understand that having a smart city does not necessarily mean it is so futuristic that it is beyond the means or imagination of most people.

“In that vein, basic necessities like healthcare issues, reducing traffic congestion, improving housing, tackling public security and energy reliability should be addressed before you start thinking about advanced technology,” said Tang, who is also Eco-Business’s country director for partnerships in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Tang added that this is not to say that technology solutions such as the Internet of Things (IoT), which interconnects everyday technology, are not valuable. 

“It is possible to leapfrog old technologies and create new economic opportunities,” he said.

“For the Philippines, smart cities should also be resilient. So smart systems should also be mindful of environmental concerns like clean energy, better use of resources and capacity building of populations,” he added.

Val Bugnot, a spokesperson for the Southeast Asian office for local governments and sustainability of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), a global network that helps cities become sustainable by transitioning to a low-carbon economy and adopting smart infrastructure, said that one thing Filipinos must understand is that beyond infrastructure, it is the people that will make smart and sustainable cities happen. 

“Building sustainable cities starts with our personal choices: Walking, biking, reducing plastic use can go a long way in ensuring cities become resilient and sustainable,” she told Eco-Business in an interview.

ICLEI, through its Ambitious City Promise project, has been working with highly urbanised and progressive cities in the Philippines like Pasig, Paranaque and Marikina to get people involved in climate action and in building inclusive and resilient cities.

The network is also conducting a series of dialogues with national and local governments in the country to localise the implementation of climate action plans; this is a crucial step towards creating sustainable and liveable cities.

Bugnot said sustainable cities are not built overnight and by governments alone. She challenged Filipinos to take part in building more resilient and sustainable cities in the country.

“To the common Pinoy, developing cities usually means having more jobs and opportunities so it’s usually good news for everyone,” she said.

Bugnot added: “However, sustainable, clean, green, and resilient cities bring in a grounded and holistic approach to development which doesn’t only forward economic development but makes sure that the people are healthy, happy, and safe in their surroundings, while ensuring the protection for the environment.” 

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