In my years of living in the heart of Metro Manila, I can barely remember the last time I was able to enjoy the sincere pleasure of walking around the city.
Picture this: the sweltering summer of ‘98, the height of the clang and clamor of the presidential campaigns, risographed faces on paper plastered on walls and guard rails on bridges. Cue 15-year-old me, fresh from a full day of Theater-workshopping in Ortigas, head full of idealism and just the right amount of angst and foolhardiness before #YOLO was a thing. The night was still alive, pretty, and young, and so was I. Hey, traffic to Rosario and beyond has always a bitch anyway, so wouldn’t it be great if I could just… walk all the way home?
And so I did.
In my cheap and trusty rubber shoes, unironic overalls, and goofy quixotic smile, oh boy I did.
And I’d done it before, sure — with a thousand-odd crowd in clusters en route to Antipolo for the Holy Week — I just had to make do with being an army of one now, so how different was that, right?
Cue the worried eyebrows that hit the ceiling from the grown-ups, as well as the streams of what-were-you-thinking and something-could’ve-happened-to-you. Okay, granted, the seven-kilometer hike was quite the ill-advised stretch for a teen girl in Metro Manila… However, would it have been so crazy to hope for an actual walkable city?
I mean, how much good could come out of it?
The most obvious benefit to a walkable city is, well, health and fitness. Studies have shown that walking is a great low-impact, and practically risk-free form of exercise to get your daily dose of cardio, and keep your blood pressure down. Now, imagine where it’s easy and safe to get your steps in just by getting to work, grabbing lunch, running errands, chilling with friends, and more.
Of course, getting into the brisk-walking vibe of the city means you’d need a lot of fresh air — which is what walkable city can organically provide for you! If more people are encouraged to take to their feet (or even bikes) instead of hopping into a car, this spells less smog and pollution in the air, and healthier lungs for everyone. In fact, studies show that walking a mile and a half will release 75% less greenhouse gasses than would be produced driving the same distance. If more people take up walking, this could give our ozone layer more space to heal faster.
Remember those picture-perfect scenes where people walk by mom-and-pop shops, fawn over the items or display in the window, and are finally greeted with the merry tinkling of bells as they step through the doorway? (Studio Ghibli fans, I see you.) Walkable cities can make that happen! Robust foot traffic is a good way to boost small-to-medium enterprises, and inspire more to pop up and thrive. This, in turn, can even convert casual passers-by into buyers, patrons, and regulars. With that, money can circulate in the local economy, and this translates into the general well-being and growth of the community.
Overall, a walkable city will also take thoughtful aesthetics, landscapes, and architecture into account. Interconnecting walkways that bridge malls, buildings, and other edifices together need not be so crowded, if the sidewalks and zebra crossings below are even, spacious, and well-maintained. Imagine shaded paths that not only protect people from the elements but also convert foot traffic into energy to power the city. Imagine gentle stairs and slopes that make it easier to bring around heavy loads, whether you’re pulling luggage along, or pushing a pram. Imagine PWD inclines, lifts, slidewalks, and more that are spacious and safe as they are beautiful, making the city truly inclusive and accessible to everyone. Imagine feeling safe and enchanted one the walk home on solar-powered glow-in-the-dark paths.
Right now, Manila is a far cry from the walkable city of my dreams. It’s still my hope that one day, another independent, off-beat 15-year-old makes up her mind to walk all the way home, and this, it ain’t so bad at all.