This story is from the 2019 Access Magazine: Innovation for All. Explore more from this issue
Manila skyline

Manila, Philippines: Building a Smart City and a Start-up Culture

The world’s largest smart-city construction project and a pivot toward start-up culture promise to reshape the Philippines’ most populated region.

Manila skyline

Metro Manila encompasses 17 cities that fuse into the world’s most densely populated megacity, home to 20,785 people per square kilometer. That’s nearly twice the density of New York, the most densely populated U.S. city. And while density makes for a vibrant global city, it also leads to crowding, traffic congestion and pollution. The Philippine government has an ambitious plan to tackle those issues by building the world’s largest smart city on the site of a former air base 80 kilometers from metro Manila’s center.

2 million

Projected number of residents for New Clark City

Construction funded through public-private partnerships is already underway in New Clark City, envisioned as a green development featuring energy-efficient buildings, high walkability and streets designed for driverless electric cars. It’s planned to be disaster-resilient — less prone to flooding than metro Manila thanks to its higher elevation and protection from typhoons by two nearby mountain ranges. And to be a truly smart city, it’s building a robust underground fiber optic infrastructure and innovations such as a smart energy grid that collects usage data to constantly fine-tune power allocation. The development will roll out in phases over the next three or so decades; in 2019, its sports center will host the Southeast Asian Games.

The vision, says the CEO of the urban planning firm that’s a partner in the development, is for New Clark City to become a “twin city” to Manila, loosening the latter’s congestion by serving as home to up to 2 million residents plus a government center. And its connectedness will attract tech companies that can contribute to economic development and help make the whole region smarter.

As New Clark City rises, a coalition of government agencies, nonprofits and private companies is focusing resources on boosting the region’s start-up economy to support it.

Evolving Toward Entrepreneurial Culture

There’s a bahay kubo — a traditional one-room bamboo hut — inside the QBO Innovation Hub space in metro Manila. And everyone is invited inside: start-up founders, investors, academic institutions and others interested in supporting Philippine start-ups.

The hub opened in 2016 as a partnership between the government’s departments of Trade and Industry, and Science and Technology; the IdeaSpace Foundation; and global financial services firm J.P. Morgan. Together, the partners aim to “spur the Philippine start-up ecosystem and raise it to global standards,” according to Butch Meily, the president of IdeaSpace and QBO.

The start-up economy has been slow to take hold in a country that has long prized career stability over entrepreneurship. “We’re trying to change that culture because it can sometimes be a very risk-averse culture,” Meily says. The Philippine government has been doing its part to ease the way, passing legislation such as the 2018 Innovative Startup Act, which provides support such as fee waivers and expedited processing of permits, along with a 10 billion peso (nearly $190 million) venture fund. “By supporting start-ups, we can unleash the potential of our fellow Filipinos,” Meily says.


PHOTO AT TOP: New smart-city development aims to ease congestion in densely populated Manila.

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