As home to several of the world’s most densely populated population centers and with roughly half of its population residing in cities, the Philippines is no stranger to urbanization. In the 2020 Census of Population and Housing, the Philippine Statistics Authority counted over 58 million Filipinos living in urban areas, giving urbanites a slight majority within the country that is only likely to increase with time.

Fostering sustainable development and providing a high quality of life for close to 60 million urban residents is not easy. Fortunately, infrastructure development in the Philippines has recently undergone a renaissance thanks to recent economic gains and a recent reprioritization of national objectives. 

The further expansion and development of urban infrastructure should not only improve the lives of current urban Filipinos but also pave the way for future economic growth. Let’s look at several infrastructure solutions currently being implemented or considered for Philippine cities:

1) Water System Improvements

The water sources that have historically fed the Philippines’ largest cities are now under threat from overpopulation and climate change. Fortunately, policymakers and utility companies are now implementing multiple solutions to improve the country’s urban water security. 

Apart from the timelier replacement of worn-out pumps and pipes, some cities are also diversifying their primary sources of water. For instance, Apo Agua Infrastructura’s bulk water supply project is pioneering the large-scale use of water treatment technology by tapping into Tamugan River to help shift Davao City’s dependence on groundwater wells. Similar projects are already being implemented or considered in other Philippine cities that are facing threats to their existing water supplies.

2) Digital Network Expansion

With Filipinos now becoming increasingly reliant on online services, the expansion of digital communications infrastructure is direly needed. Coverage and data capacity gaps are now being filled by new-generation small cell sites and common towers, among many other solutions, both cutting-edge and tried-and-true. These assets are not only important for facilitating business-critical services like e-commerce, customer support, online marketing and web design, data analytics, supply chain management, human resources, and finance and accounting, but also for ensuring the delivery of basic public services like social welfare, healthcare, court services, and the various other services facilitated by e-government portals.  Digital networks are also necessary for the remote real-time monitoring of other infrastructure assets like roads and utility systems.

3) Data Centers

Data centers serve as hubs for data storage, processing, and distribution, enabling service providers to operate efficiently in the current digital landscape. Without adequate domestic data centers, Philippine cities will have to rely on overseas facilities, placing hard limits on local cities’ abilities to use data. Developing local data centers should not only enable Philippine cities to become true “smart cities”; it should also attract investments and create job opportunities, contributing to economic development.

4) Public Transportation Upgrades

With urbanization comes a rise in vehicular traffic, leading to congestion and air pollution. Upgrading public transportation systems such as buses, jeepneys, trains, and light rail, can significantly alleviate traffic issues and increase the livability of cities. Efficient and reliable public transit options will also encourage citizens to use public transportation, reducing the reliance on private vehicles and reducing air and noise pollution.

5) Smart Traffic Management

While public transportation upgrades are important, implementing smart traffic management solutions is crucial to optimizing existing road networks. Traffic congestion costs the Philippine economy around PHP 3.5 billion every day, and as such, better traffic management could be seen as not just an issue for cities but as a national issue as well. Real-time traffic monitoring, smart traffic lights, and advanced traffic control algorithms facilitated by better digital connectivity and data centers can boost road efficiency and mitigate delays caused by accidents or unexpected events.

6) Green Energy Initiatives

Growing cities and more prosperous urban populations will inevitably increase energy demands. Thankfully, the Philippines has several sustainable energy solutions at its disposal to further reduce the environmental impacts associated with urbanization. Promoting green energy initiatives, such as solar, geothermal, and wind power, can help reduce climate-altering carbon emissions and the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, ensuring a more sustainably powered future for Philippine cities.

7) Affordable Housing Initiatives

The influx of people into cities often leads to a shortage of affordable housing options. Developing affordable yet environmentally sustainable housing initiatives close to where businesses are located should address this housing demand, ensuring that citizens have access to safe and decent accommodations. Collaborating with both the public and private sectors can also help create sustainable and inclusive housing projects.

8) Mixed-Use Infrastructure

Lastly, with Philippine cities increasing in population density, planners need to reconsider how their limited space is allocated. Emphasizing mixed-use developments that incorporate green spaces, offer access to schools and businesses, and prioritize pedestrian-friendly infrastructure can help reduce the demand for private vehicles and reduce pollution. Incorporating bike lanes and public transit options to connect different neighborhoods and business districts may also help reduce long commutes associated with Philippine cities, creating more livable, resilient, and environmentally conscious places to live.

The rapid urbanization of cities in the Philippines presents both opportunities and challenges. Fortunately, policymakers and city planners have several solutions with which to proactively address these challenges and foster sustainable growth. If these solutions are conscientiously implemented, we can expect Philippine cities to not only increase in their prosperity but also become great places to live.