Government Infrastructure Investment News Analysis

Transfer of capital

New Clark City (aka Clark Green City)

In three years time, the Philippines’ smartest, greenest city – a brand, spanking new metropolis spread across 9,450 hectares of Luzon land – will become a living, breathing reality. More than three and a half times bigger than Makati – the country’s bustling financial centre – it’ll be up there will the most-modern cities on Earth.

This is New Clark City (aka Clark Green City) the jewel in the crown of the state-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) which is developing it in partnership with the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation. Situated in Tarlac, 100 kilometres north of the capital, Manila, it’s the country’s first purpose-planned, purpose-built environmentally friendly, disaster-resilient, energy-sustainable city.

But if it’s green by design; it’s golden by nature. New Clark City is expected to kick-in PHP1.57 trillion annually to the national economy; or roughly 4% of gross domestic product. Broadly, it’ll have five zones – government district, central business district, academic district, agri-forestry research and development district, wellness, recreation and eco-tourism district. And once fully developed it’ll be home to 1.12 million residents and provide jobs for 800,000 workers.

Furthermore, strategically located in the vibrant industrial hub of Central Luzon – a major commercial drive belt comprising the freeport zones of Clark, Subic Bay and Poro Point – with highway connectivity to Manila and other major cities, it will serve a catchment population of more than 12 million.

The emphasis of this development is on order and efficiency – in other words, the complete antithesis of Manila where disorder and inefficiency in all aspects of transport services and city planning have made the world’s most densely populated city virtually unworkable. In pantomime terms, if Manila is an Ugly Sister, New Clark City is the Cinderella.

Unlike Manila, New Clark is not flood prone. As we said in our article, A capital idea [31 July 2017], “At its lowest point it’s 56 metres above sea level while areas of the present capital – such as Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela – are below sea level. There are no clogged waterways, no neglected drainage systems either; no San Juan River or Pasig River to swell and burst their banks as tropical cyclones disgorge their rains and turn Manila into Water World.

“Furthermore, with mountain ranges to the east and west, it’s protected from typhoons. Metro Manila, which is dissected by the Marikina Valley Fault System – it traverses the cities of Quezon, Makati, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Pasig and Taguig – leaves the threat of a devastating earthquake hanging over the capital like a sword of Damocles. There are no fault lines under or within the environs of this new metropolis …”.

But it has another huge advantage, unlike old, established cities, it was able to start with a blank canvas; a clean sheet. There was nothing there to inhibit its design or construction. It didn’t have to make compromises; to accommodate old flaws; to work around things. It could be everything it wanted to be and there was nothing in its way to stop it.

It’s also bringing in and attracting the best in the world to help it realise its dream. From solar and wind power to designing smart buildings to training staff in the best practices of running a smart city, BDCA has encouraged the world’s most innovative designers, engineers and experts to come and put their stamp on the place.

Earlier this week it was announced that Singapore-based Surbana Jurong, one of the world’s largest urban, industrial and infrastructure firms, is now preparing the detailed design standards and guidelines for New Clark. This will involve making refinements to the city’s design, reviewing agreements for providing water and power and devising a framework for the city’s long-term operation.

Surbana Jurong, with 120 offices in 40 countries, was a natural choice. Its flagship project – the Suzhou Singapore Industrial Township – a 7,000-hectare integrated township of industrial parks, residential development as well as communal, recreational and educational facilities has a similar high-tech and green profile to New Clark.

But that’s not the only expertise to come from Singapore – the world’s 2nd smartest city according to the 2017 Smart Cities Index (SCI) published by the Stockholm-based Easy Park Group. The government leaders who’ll form the city’s administration have been trained in Singapore.

By last October, 100 of them had completed a training programme in the city state. Produced jointly by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and Temasek Foundation – an endowment of state-owned investment fund Temasek Holdings – the course involved learning best practice in everything from urban policy and urban planning, to green-city development and economic development, to governance and public administration. These men and women will form the core of the executive which will run New Clark.

But there are certain indicators which might suggest the city’s planners have far more in mind for it than building a green place for people to come to live and work. New Clark City, we believe, might be the understudy for a future role as the new Manila. It could be the next capital of the Philippines – possibly the federal capital of the Philippine Federation should that come to fruition.

If not that, at least a new administrative capital.  At the end of July last year, the Department of Transportation moved its staff and apparatus from Manila to the Clark Freeport Zone next door to Tarlac in Pampanga. Following the move, BDCA president, Vince Dizon, said this: “Slowly we will be moving other key government departments from Metro Manila to Clark”. This year should see those moves take place.

This is very similar to South Korea’s relocation of its government ministries and agencies from the capital, Seoul, to Sejong City, 120 kilometres to the south. The purpose was to reduce Seoul’s influence and dominance in terms of economic development by promoting a more regional approach. In the words of the former Home Administration Minister, Maeng Hyung-gyu: “Sejong is a symbol of the country’s efforts towards a more balanced development”. This, he added, would help to decongest Seoul and “spur investment” in the country’s central region.

All that has a very familiar ring to it. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte makes no secret of the disdain he has for Manila – “Imperial Manila”. His goal, too, is to open up the regions by breaking the Philippine capital’s influence stranglehold. And if the Koreans think Seoul’s congested, then they better stay out of Manila – or as it’s less-than-affectionately known locally, ‘Carmaggedon’.

And then there’s Putrajaya, Malaysia’s seat of government; the centre of the Federal Government Administration. It shifted there in 1999 from Kuala Lumpur which remains the national capital.

Putrajaya, like New Clark, is a planned city – meaning it was planned from inception and built in an area that had not previously been developed. Again, overcrowding and congestion were the reasons for the move – though while KL’s population density is 6,890 per square kilometer, Manila’s is 18,000.

Also like Clark, Putrajaya is both a garden city and an ‘intelligent’ city. Green spaces occupy around 40% of the area while the Internet of Things optimises the efficiency of services and connects to citizens, reducing costs and resource consumption into the bargain.

Smart cities are highly digitised and use electronically gathered data to control everything from traffic flows to pollution levels to energy use to crime prevention. The purpose is to deliver an urban environment which is safer, healthier and more efficient as well as one which offers environmental sustainability; clean, affordable and reliable transport; access to good education facilities and a local economy with a high proportion of businesses pursuing innovation and new technologies.

Interestingly, last October – unsolicited – Malaysia’s MTD Capital, an investment holding company with interests in civil engineering, infrastructure development, energy and ports, offered to build a PHP122 billion national government administration centre at New Clark City. This would comprise satellite offices, a large block of admin offices to house various government departments and affiliated agencies.

The entire project would occupy an area of 207 hectares. Within that there would also be an extension office for the president, executive buildings, housing for government employees, sports facilities, a central communications and security command centre, a government hospital, a public library, and buildings for community centres, as well as site provisions for embassies and both international and public schools.

So, if South Korea and Malaysia can move their government infrastructures from their capital cities, relocating them in purpose-built ones free from snarled traffic and out-of-control urban populations, we believe there’s a very good chance that the Philippines will do the same. Indeed, from the point of view of congestion – by both people and vehicles – Manila beats Seoul and KL hands down.

Whether that happens, we’ll have to wait and see. What we are sure of though, is that by the time New Clark is up and running, it will have no problem finding its way onto the Smart Cities Index.

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