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No Expenses Spared In Philippines Model City


From the urban chaos of metropolitan Manila, a new global city is emerging.

The new high-tech complex is now rising on a former military camp, Fort Bonifacio, in the Manila suburb of Makati, the Philippines' business center.

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It will be Asia's first completely planned city and, although it was not planned to take advantage of businesses fleeing Hong Kong ahead of the 1997 handover to China, it may well be in a position to do so.

Fort Bonifacio "could give rise to the best alternative to Hong Kong yet," says Victor Lim, who recently retired as chairman of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), the government agency selling off huge tracts of land once occupied as bases by the Philippine and US military.

The Fort Bonifacio "city" is aimed at luring investors from the dynamic economies of East Asia. For a country that has little track record in urban planning, the 539-acre complex is designed down to the last detail, even as to type of shrub.

Its backers say the new city is emerging as a symbol of the country's readiness to compete globally, a decade after the Philippines overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos and began the long haul to restore a battered economy beset with massive poverty.

The complex, jointly planned by the Metro Pacific Corporation and the BCDA, is run by the Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation. A year after the land was sold for $1.6 billion (termed here as the "real estate deal of the century"), bulldozers have moved in to start construction. And no expenses are being spared.

The biggest names in design and engineering have been hired. The Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei is to design the first residential block. And urban planners Helmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum of San Francisco are drawing up a master plan. Parsons Brinckerhoff, also of San Francisco, is the transport planner.

The place is not exactly for middle income people. Condo units sold by developer Century Properties are going at a pre-construction price of $1.2 million each.

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An unusual aspect of the city is that it will attempt to be "pollution free." Private cars will be banned along the main artery, a tree-lined boulevard to be plied only by electric trams and trolleys. Massive parking lots will be built at the city's periphery, a park-and-ride American concept, says Rogelio Singson, senior vice president for project management.

A 38-acre underground complex is to be the transport center where rail mass-transit lines being planned for Manila will merge to link up with trains going south to Manila airport.

That center will also receive traffic coming from the south and north of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines. Fort Bonifacio will be linked to Clark and Subic - former US bases that are now the free-port zones on Luzon - through a highway and a $2 billion rapid rail being constructed by a Spanish group, Construcciones Y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles.

The transport linkages are meant to pull together the city into a network with Clark and Subic to spur development.

The whole city is going high tech: Telecommunications will be fiber optic, homes and offices will have indoor garbage-removal units, and walkways will link all buildings.

"What we are planning," stresses Mr. Singson, "is a model city that can sustain and surpass the 21st century. We are not looking at current technology."

The city is planned for a residential population of 250,000, he says, with the daytime working population being three times that number.

The planners are also emphasizing cultural development. Each developer that sets aside space for the arts will get additional space. "Everyone polled opted to create long-term value, by creating an innovative and functional city as opposed to a historical city like Paris or a functional one like Singapore," Singson notes.

Executives toured 13 cities in the US, Europe, and Asia to pick up the best features in city planning. Fort Bonifacio will be a hybrid: a little of San Francisco (trains and trolleys), Barcelona (underground car parks), Minneapolis (central air conditioning), and Hong Kong (walkways).

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