What’s good about SMC’s aerotropolis project
The recent chaos that transpired at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport when a Xiamen Air jet skidded off the runway stresses the need for the government to lose no time in facilitating the construction of the aerotropolis airport project proposed by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) in the town of Bulacan.
With its proposed large capacity of up to six runways, the airport’s major role will be to eliminate the air traffic congestion issues that have marked Naia’s existence. The dysfunctional Manila airport can be decommissioned and converted into a prime real estate development district. The development of Clark International Airport and the proposed two-runway airport at Sangley Point can proceed, considering that most megacities around the world are also served by multiple airports.
To me, however, another major role of the SMC aerotropolis is to relieve Metro Manila of its population and road traffic congestion problems by acting as a conduit point that will channel development and vehicle movement toward “new towns” east of the metropolis. By way of conceptualizing a subregional development model, the aerotropolis will help develop Bulacan as an entry node in a “new town development arc” around Metro Manila, a development that will, in turn, hasten the sub-urbanization process from the metropolis while also capturing the influx of migrants into it.
With SMC’s plan to build an expressway linking its airport to NLEx in Marilao, the Bulacan new town can be connected as a channeling point to the new town development arc via Marilao, as created by the government’s circumferential C-6 highway project. C-6 is planned to connect the new towns of Marilao, San Jose del Monte, Rodriguez, San Mateo, Marikina, Taytay and Taguig, to act as countermagnets to the metropolis. Residents and travelers conscious of the connectivity of the aerotropolis to these towns will consider the benefits of such a suburban location.
However, in order to allow Bulacan to perform its role as a major decongesting transit point toward the metropolis’ eastern periphery, the government should facilitate the speedy completion of its three-phase C-6 project, which has lain dormant after the Marcos administration. The idea derived its inspiration from the successful new town scheme conceptualized by Patrick Abercrombie in mid-20th-century England. The strategy involved the development of a ring of “new towns,” buffered by a greenbelt around Greater London, that were designed to decongest the capital.
Also, another major role of the aerotropolis-Bulacan new town is to act as a catalyst for the growth of towns north of Manila Bay. For this to happen however, the perennial flooding problem in the lower parts of the Pampanga river basin needs to be resolved urgently. Making the towns flood-free will allow development impulses from the aerotropolis to trickle down easily to the Central Luzon subregion.
Knowing this, SMC has offered to build — at no cost to the government — a spillway that will allow floodwaters from the Angat, Ipo and Bustos watersheds to flow directly into Manila Bay. For its part, the government should revive the continuation of its major flood control project in the area, i.e., the Pampanga Delta Development Project (PDDP), which aimed to reduce flood damage in the lower Pampanga delta created by floodwaters from the upper Pampanga river basin.
From what I know, the first phase of the PDDP was completed in 2003, but Phase 2, which was designed to effectively mitigate yearly inundation, was aborted. There was a strong lobby against it by residents whose settlements would be affected by the construction of the proposed dike and spillway.
President Duterte, with his vaunted decisive leadership, should intervene in this project, using the state’s power of eminent domain to effect the implementation of the PDDP’s second phase for the good of the greater public. However, before the project is resumed, its design should be examined first in relation to that of SMC’s project, to ensure compatibility and avoid redundancy.
Meanwhile, nonstructural measures such as the intensive reforestation of the Caraballo and Sierra Madre watersheds should be conducted posthaste.
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Meliton B. Juanico, a retired professor of geography at the University of the Philippines Diliman, is a licensed environmental planner and is active in urban and regional planning consultancy work.
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