Beyond megacities: Why secondary cities hold the key to a livable future

As half of the world’s seven billion population live in urban areas, cities will face the challenges of urbanization head on. If unplanned, urbanization can be devastating—overcrowding, traffic congestion, environmental degradation, shortage of basic public services. But if managed well, urbanization can translate to higher incomes, wider distribution of wealth, more jobs and investment opportunities, lower carbon emissions, and a better quality of life.

In the Philippines, nearly 50 percent of its 101 million people reside in cities. Twenty-four million live in Metro Manila alone, making it one of the ten biggest megacities in the world. While it contributes largely to the country’s gross domestic product, its economic success is concentrated within the confines of its own urban boundaries.

Secondary cities on the other hand, are potential growth hubs that can also make substantial contributions to national economic development. At the early stages of their urbanization, these cities have more room for improvisation and stronger influence in public administration, local commerce and industry, connectivity, and socio-cultural dynamism.

For the past three decades, livability has been used to describe a higher standard of living. Urban areas provide safe neighborhoods, efficient transport systems, accessible education and health services, vibrant community involvement, and a robust and resilient local economy.

But what makes an urban area livable? And which ones are primed to move toward a livable future?

Secondary cities as agents of growth

As agents of growth, secondary cities hold the key to a livable future. These cities have an enabling environment for growth given their vital assets—industry diversity, skills and human capital, strategic governance capacity, green space, and cooperation of stakeholders. With the right tools and the capacity to manage growth, these cities can provide a healthier, equitable, and resilient lifestyle to their people and those in surrounding localities.

Recognizing the need for an innovative urban-led strategy to advance the development of secondary cities as agents of growth, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) established the Cities Development Initiative (CDI) in early 2012 as part of its broader Partnership for Growth (PFG). The PFG is a partnership between the Philippines and the United States to help put the Philippines on an accelerated growth trajectory that benefits the majority of its population.

CDI partner cities were selected based on a criteria set by USAID and formalized through a Memorandum of Understanding with local governments, providing the basis for promoting these cities as agents of growth through mutual responsibility. These cities include Batangas, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa, Tagbilaran and Zamboanga.

CDI is creating more vibrant and livable secondary cities by helping come up with practical and smart solutions to economic growth, education, environmental resiliency, and health challenges through collaboration with local governments, civil society and the private sector.

To foster the development of conditions for broad-based, inclusive and resilient economic growth for the six cities, USAID launched its Strengthening Urban Resilience for Growth with Equity (SURGE) Project in August 2015.

SURGE is assisting these cities and adjacent areas to plan effectively, guarantee basic public services, promote competitiveness, support sustainable development, and reduce disaster and climate change risks while ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth all consistent with USAID's Urban Policy.

SURGE also leverages and works with existing USAID projects in the economic growth, environment, energy and climate change, health, and education sectors as a means to providing a multi-faceted approach.

These activities will contribute to conditions that lead to thriving secondary cities that offer a livable future for generations to come.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco gives USAID Mission Director Dr. Susan Brems a miniature vinta.

“This is my first visit to a Cities Development Initiative partner city,” said Dr. Susan Brems, USAID Mission Director for the Philippines, Pacific Islands, and Mongolia.

Dr. Brems, who began her assignment in September 2015, visited Zamboanga City on March 15-16, 2016 where USAID is implementing an array of projects covering economic growth and city management, water security, access to health services, education, skills training, technology provision, and livelihood activities.

“USAID is upbeat on the prospects of development and growth in Zamboanga,” she told Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco during a courtesy call.

One of the highlights of Dr. Brems’ visit was the launch of the Dedicated Alert Lines for Ocean Biodiversity or DALOY.

“Today, we are witnessing a powerful partnership that will curb illegal fishing. The DALOY uses the simplicity and convenience of texting to allow reporting of illegal fishing—and it has proven to be a powerful tool so far. USAID is committed to assist you in stopping illegal fishing and wildlife trafficking,” said Dr. Brems.

The SMS hotline 3456 was developed by USAID through its ECOFISH Project in partnership with the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group and local telecommunications company Smart Communications. It allows citizens to anonymously report illegal fishing and wildlife poaching using their mobile phones.

USAID introduced the hotline in Tawi-Tawi in 2014, resulting in 25 arrests and the seizure of more than PhP6 million (US$127,750) worth of wildlife contraband in the province. The Zamboanga launch marks the countrywide roll-out of the hotline.

Dr. Brems also visited the Zamboanga City Medical Center Birthing Facility. “Across the world, the U.S. Government supports initiatives that promote healthy mothers and babies. A large part of that is family planning.”

USAID, through its Global Health Maternal and Child Health Program and MindanaoHealth, has worked with the Department of Health to transform the hospital into a Center of Excellence for Family Planning.

To address this service delivery gap, the hospital with support from USAID and the Department of Health trained a total of 320 service providers and medical professionals in family planning and newborn care—representing 79 birthing facilities across the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Out-of-school youth in Zamboanga City are also given the opportunity to gain skills and competencies and become productive members of the community.

“We used to be idle and had no job at all. Now we earn at least PhP500 (US$11) per batch of sardines in jars," said Rasheed Amiddin, an out-of-school youth.

During her visit, Dr. Brems interacted with out-of-school youth who are now engaged in Spanish sardines, peanut brittle, shirt printing, and Yakan woven cloth production.

USAID’s Mindanao Youth for Development (MYDev) Program, in partnership with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System, is supporting young people in Zamboanga City and conflict-affected areas in Mindanao through life skills and educational/vocational skills training to expand their earning opportunities.

In Batangas City, USAID in collaboration with the City Government of Batangas and the Metro Batangas Business Club held the first Batangas Green Business Summit on March 17, 2016.

More than 350 local government planners, business and civil society organization leaders, and academicians converged to discuss urban planning, climate science, water and sanitation management.

The City Government and the Metro Batangas Business Club committed to support the 2015 Manila Declaration which is the response of the Philippine private sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The summit is an activity of USAID’s Building Low Emission Alternatives to Develop Economic Resilience and Sustainability (B-LEADERS) Project, which aims to contribute to increasing climate change resilience and mitigation in the Philippines. B-LEADERS complements the ultimate goal of transformative economic growth with a primary focus on sustainable management of resources and reduction of emissions.

Meanwhile in Cagayan de Oro City, USAID and the City Government launched its mobile payment system for market stall rental during the kick-off of the e-Bayad Tour.

Organized by USAID’s E-PESO Project with the City Government, payment service provider Mynt (GCash) and First Community Cooperative, the e-Bayad Tour is aimed at increasing awareness and usage of electronic payments to speed up government transactions. The caravan is being held in two other CDI partner cities—Batangas and Iloilo.

The E-PESO Project is supporting the Philippines to shift from a cash-based economy to digital through the development of an efficient, transparent, and inclusive e-payment ecosystem that contributes to broad-based economic growth.

A market vendor registers for the mobile payment service.

USAID's SURGE Project held the last leg of its Stakeholders' Forum in Cagayan de Oro City on March 11, 2016. The Stakeholders' Forum is a mechanism to identify, prioritize and lead the implementation of SURGE activities in each CDI partner city. Key leaders of the local government, business group, academia, and civil society organizations from each of the six CDI partner cities participated in the series of Stakeholders' Forum.

Stakeholders committed to help accelerate their city's inclusive and resilient economic growth. Initiatives identified to bring about their vision of growth include innovative mass transport systems, improved traffic management, environment-friendly businesses, and small and medium enterprise promotion, among others. These will form part of an action plan for each city's sustainable development.

During the forum, the city also launched its electronic Building Permit Management System (e-BPMS). This USAID-support initiative is a first in the country and cuts down building permit processing from 32 steps in 90 days to 12 steps in just 5 days to make the city more business-friendly and compliant to government standards.

Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno (3rd from left) with private sector leaders and USAID and SURGE officials commit to propel the city's growth.

For more information on USAID's projects in the Philippines, click here.

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