I asked the water company engineer why his company was digging up the street in front of my family’s house for the second time in a few years. He answered my question with a frown and a sigh.
“I have to install new pipes because of that new building,” he replied as he pointed at the high-rise residential structure just a few meters across the street.
“When we at the water company improved the pipes here a few years ago, we didn’t plan for that building. But now, because of that high-rise, we have to install bigger high-pressure pipes that will be able to supply water to all the floors of that building.”
“It’s very frustrating,” he added. “All that work a few years ago for nothing. Why couldn’t the city just follow their zoning laws?”
I live in the City of Mandaluyong, one of several cities in the National Capital Region or NCR. The NCR is the highest populated and urbanised place in the Philippines. In 2017, Mandaluyong City updated its Zoning Ordinance Map in line with its Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The CLUP laid out how the city was to be divided in terms of where residential, commercial, and industrial areas would be, as well as spaces for institutions and parks.
There are essentially two (2) major zone groups: residential and commercial, coupled with other categories: urban renewal area (URA), institutional, parks & open spaces, cemetery, and utilities.
Residential zones, those designated with an “R” classification, are exclusive for structures for homes and living spaces. No buildings, structures, or land are to be used for commercial purposes.
Commercial zones, those with a “C” classification, allow for use of land and structures for business.
Sub-classifications per zoning category allow for building height and density.
In residential areas, an R-1 zone is limited to “single-family, single-detached” buildings. An R-2 zone allows for “low-rise single-attached duplex or multi-level buildings,” while an R-3A zone includes high-rise structures exclusive for multiple family dwellings although it may include low-, medium-, and high-rise residential buildings that are “already commercial in nature or scale.” An R-3B zone allows for high-rise buildings up to 18 storeys.
For commercial areas, C-1, C-2, and C-3 zones differ in the size of buildings and number of establishments per structure. Central Business Districts (CBD) allow for “large-scale office, commercial, business, financial, leisure, and high-rise residential and related uses.” Mixed Development Zones are for “mixed residential, retail shops, offices, leisure industry, and support commercial activities.”
Mandaluyong City’s Zoning Ordinance doesn’t have industrial zones, which some other cities do.
The city has a Zoning Administrator to administer and enforce the ordinance. Complaints and appeals related to the zoning ordinance, however, are brought forth to the Local Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals (LZBAA) in which the city mayor is chair and consists of executives and officers from city hall.
The purpose of having a zoning ordinance is to organise how land is used within the city. It’s a guide which the city established to avoid problems such as traffic congestion and urban blight. Via the CLUP mentioned above, its intention was to specify what parts of the city can be used for residential and commercial uses, as well as for institutional needs, special purposes, and parks & greenery.
The key word is organise. Zoning is the excellent manifestation of the management function of organising, one of the four basics in which the other three are planning, directing, and controlling.
By organising the city’s lands for what they can be used for, city hall executives can plan how to bring more prosperity to Mandaluyong while balancing security and convenience for their constituents.
The high-rise condominium tower the water company engineer pointed at on our street was clearly not supposed to be there, as per the zone it is in, R-2. Yet, it’s there, a monstrous tower overshadowing our neighbourhood that somehow got built despite the rules against it.
Somehow, the high-rise developer was able to skirt the ordinance and build his building in our R-2 neighbourhood. It was what forced the water company to change the pipes, which wasted the improvements it made a few years before.
With zones, a city can plan its infrastructure accordingly. One can lay out how much power, plumbing, telecommunications, road, and sewage capacities each zone would need. Commercial zones would need wider streets and sidewalks for heavier traffic, for instance. Residential zones would maybe need more street lights and efficient sewage piping.
City hall politicians are often under constant pressure to revise zoning ordinances to accommodate developers wanting to build bigger buildings or heed residents clamouring to protect their peaceful neighbourhoods. In many cases, both developers and residents challenge zoning rules in which there would be plenty of cases on the LZBAA’s list.
Zoning is part and parcel of urban planning and management. It brings organisation into a city or town and helps leaders plan their respective districts’ infrastructures. It helps leaders decide when violations happen or when developers push for exceptions.
Despite whatever pressures developers or residents put on political executives, zoning serves as a superior model for organising, that basic function of management we sometimes take for granted.