Philippines’ new Clark Green City promises sustainable living

Joining the growing list of countries boasting eco-cities, the Philippines is set to build Clark Green City which features a 50-year master plan that will help decongest Metro Manila, drive the economy and guide the country towards sustainable development. Elga Reyes reports.

Clark Green City project
The Bases and Conversion Development Authority of the Philippines is leading the development of the country's first sustainable city called the Clark Green City, which will help alleviate urbanisation woes in nearby Metro Manila. Image: BCDA

Metro Manila, the national capital region of the Philippines, is one of the densest cities in the world, known for its chaotic streets and colourful traffic gridlock – but this may all eventually change once the country’s first sustainable city is realised.

Called the Clark Green City (CGC), the project is a 9,450-hectare master development plan located around the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, a province that is only about 80 kilometres away from Metro Manila. The Clark Green City will see five districts rise in three phases over the next five decades.

The upcoming eco-city is the brainchild of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), a state-run company mandated to transform or facilitate the sale of idle military camps and to repurpose former US military bases into productive areas, such as industrial zones. It is behind the successful turnaround of Fort Bonifacio, an old military camp that is now a bustling business and commercial area rivalling the stature of Makati, the country’s central business district.

In a recent interview, Arnel Paciano Casanova, president and chief executive officer of the BCDA, shared with Eco-Business that Clark Green City will even be grander than the 600-hectare Fort Bonifacio, which is now locally referred to as Bonifacio Global City, partly due to the presence of multinational companies.

He stressed: “The Clark Green City is a grandiose plan, but we will also build it gradually. We don’t want to bite off more than what we can chew.”

The sub-special economic zones of Clark remained undeveloped for so many years. At the same time, we saw the challenges here in the capital of Metro Manila – too much congestion, which makes the city quite unsustainable – and there was really a need to help ease the pressure and provide more opportunities for growth.

Arnel Paciano Casanova, BCDA president and CEO

“Before we develop any land, we come up with a master plan first to see the optimal sustainable use of the land,” he added.

The city’s districts will feature, among others, government centre, a central business district, an academic district, an agri-forestry research and development area, and a wellness and eco-tourism district.

It will also be powered by renewable energy facilities and a waste-to-energy plant, as well as enhanced by sustainable modes of public transport like a bus rapid transit system, urban farms, and the use of high-capacity connectivity to support e-governance platforms.

Decongesting Manila

The Clark Green City project began when the BCDA saw an opportunity to develop the greater area surrounding the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, a province in Central Luzon, which is the heart of the main island group of the Philippines. 

This freeport zone is the redevelopment of the former Clark Air Base ran by the United States Air Force. It was built to help rebuild communities and trigger economic growth following the end of the military bases agreement with the US in 1991, and also after two catastrophic disasters – the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the same year and the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that hit North Luzon in 1990 – affected the region.

To encourage business investments in the area, the Clark Freeport Zone has special incentives for investors such as tax and duty-free importation of equipment and materials. Companies can also be 100 per cent foreign-owned for several selected industries.

“Still, the sub-special economic zones of Clark remained undeveloped for so many years,” said Casanova. “At the same time, we saw the challenges here in the capital of Metro Manila – too much congestion, which makes the city quite unsustainable – and there was really a need to help ease the pressure and provide more opportunities for growth.”

He explained that CGC is not set out to compete with Manila, as Manila will continue to grow and account for a sizable portion of the GDP. Another metropolitan area that is neither too near nor far from the capital region will help “ease the pressure of migration to Manila” and increase the quality of life for residents, he added.

The Clark Green City master plan, he noted, is a government response to address the rural to urban migration. It hopes that by developing a new city from the ground up with better urban planning, integrating infrastructure and public services and stimulating the start of new communities outside of Metro Manila, it will provide people with a higher standard of living.

Currently, Metro Manila, a megacity of 16 cities and a municipality, is one of the densest metropolises in the world, and its rapid urbanisation and inadequate infrastructure and services have resulted to the proliferation of slums.

One 2010 study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies noted that about 37 per cent of Metro Manila’s population or more than four million Filipinos live in informal settlements, which is growing at a rate of eight per cent per year. 

But there is cause for optimism: Manila recently placed second in the Emerging Cities Outlook report by US-based consultancy A.T. Kearney, which indicated that out of 34 cities from low- and middle-income nations, it has one of the highest potential to become a global city. The Philippines’ strong economic growth and a government administration focused on addressing corruption were reasons cited for this ranking.

The Clark Green City is expected to become a key contributor to national development. The BCDA noted that at full completion, the project would create 925,000 jobs and generate about US$36 billion annually, or about four per cent share of the national GDP.  

South Korea’s Songdo inspires CGC

Among the growing number of eco-cities worldwide, South Korea’s Songdo International Business District has become the benchmark for the Clark Green City.

Casanova said: “Songdo is one of many models we’re looking into because it has an airport and seaport as well. It’s also a special economic zone and South Korea itself is a very vibrant economy. But we’re not going to simply replicate what Songdo is doing.”

The BCDA has a technical cooperation with the South Korean city to share best practices. In particular, the agency is seeking to emulate Songdo’s utilities integration and security system – a smart city feature that will enable seamless connectivity and better efficiency for city authorities to manage facilities and utilities, as well as for future residents to have easier access to information such as traffic and weather updates or even security alerts on their smart phones.

Casanova said that with a computerized network of services, for example, residents could have CCTVs in their homes that would automatically message them in cases of attempted burglary.

In line with this, the BCDA has a non-binding framework with Korean firm Centios and Cisco Systems International to explore potential collaboration in the area of ICT development for sustainable urbanisation.

Separately, Centios, which has a partnership with Korean Telecom and Cisco, is also working on a smart city project in the City of Manila. Centios CEO Hung Kwon Song noted in previous reports that the Philippines’ high electricity rates and energy mismanagement will pose challenges as well as opportunities for better energy use and conservation.

Aside from these firms, Casanova and his team are also working with the Urban Land Institute, a global non-profit specialising in urban planning, and the Philippine Green Building Council to establish “green parameters” on a city-wide scale, which will guide institutions on how to minimise environmental impact and how green living can be ingrained into the future communities.

They have also partnered with the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School for a strategic marketing plan, as well as with local government units and national agencies.

Recently, the BCDA announced that it will tender out the first phase of the CGC project towards the middle of this year. This initial phase, which covers 2014 to 2019, will require about US$1.3 billion in investment that could be raised through a public-private partnership scheme.

The first phase will consist of building the industrial, institutional and mixed use zones, as well as developing the backbone of the eco-city, such as the water supply system, including a water treatment plant; a storm drainage system to help prevent floods; waste management facilities like a waste recycling and biomass recovery plant; and, an organised transportation network prioritising pedestrians and mass transit over allocating more roads for private vehicles.

Casanova admitted that the project is still primarily in the planning stages. He promised, though, that the city will ultimately improve the lives of Filipinos, especially those who are currently economically and socially marginalised.

“The Clark Green City is not just a physical city of infrastructure, but we’re building a city for human beings, an inclusive city,” he said.

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