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‘Crazy’ New Clark City dream moves closer to reality

Duterte administration embraces concept, deems it a ‘legacy project’
/ 03:37 AM October 16, 2019

Artist’s rendition of the New Clark City.

The man who first pitched the idea behind what was now the New Clark City had always known he would not have the privilege of implementing and finishing it.

When Arnel Casanova, former chief of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), pitched the project in 2012, he recalled that some top government officials thought it was a crazy idea.

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Why, they said, would you build a city in the hinterland? But more than half a decade later, that “crazy” idea started making a lot of sense, given the billions of pesos being lost every day due to the traffic congestion in Metro Manila.

The grand plan is to transform a 9,450-hectare land in Capas, Tarlac, into a planned metropolis called the New Clark City that can accommodate up to 1.2 million people and a host of projects.

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Although this project was conceptualized before its time, the Duterte administration embraced it and deemed New Clark City a “legacy project.”

Project implementation is ongoing and this administration will likely see at least the first phase of the development completed before its term ends in 2022.

The project, which is being done in phases, still has a long way to go. But as the hashtag for the city’s official Facebook page reads, it already “works like a dream.”

The entire development is being managed and overseen by the BCDA. For this, the BCDA had signed a 50-year contract with the Filinvest group for the development of a 288-hectare land in the New Clark City into a mixed-use township.

30th SEA Games

The city’s sports facilities are by now almost ready to host the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) before the end of the year.

Reports showed the BCDA had also partnered with some foreign firms to develop tourism-related projects in the area. Portion of the New Clark City will include a government center which will in the future host offices of government agencies.

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The New Clark City will be supported by key infrastructure projects that will make it accessible to people. For instance, Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corp. is reportedly being tapped to do a railway project that will connect the New Clark City to Manila and other surrounding cities.

BCDA is a state-owned firm that converts former military bases and properties into economic hubs with the help of the private sector. Its portfolio includes what is now known as the Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

In many ways, the New Clark City is the metropolis that authorities hoped would not repeat the mistakes made in Metro Manila.

The New Clark City, which is nearly 40 times the size of the 240-hectare BGC, is BCDA’s biggest project yet. But for Casanova, it certainly shouldn’t be another BGC.

“Looking at our experience here in BGC, we are proud of what we did here. But at the same time, I realize, this is an enclave mostly for the rich,” he said.

The former BCDA president said this as he sat in his office in BGC, pointing to how the price of real estate in the area had gone so high that most people working in the area would live in far away areas that were more affordable.

Corporate interest had made what was once a barren land into a city brimming with life at night, not only because of its vibrant night life, but because of the call centers here servicing the other parts of the world.

While he said BGC was a reflection of what a central business district should be, he said “this does not really embody what a good city should be like.”

Envisioning New Clark City

Casanova recalled that a few years before Clark Green City—as it was known then—broke ground in 2015, he and his team had visited cities around the world for inspiration.

“Every time we had a travel, which is a working trip actually, I wake them up at 6 a.m. in the morning and force them to jog with me,” he said, recalling his experience in Singapore in particular.

“I force them to jog with me around the city because if you’re a good urban planner, you must feel and experience the city either as a pedestrian, biker, or as a commuter. You can’t come up with a good city if you’re simply riding a car,” he said.

So he dreamed of a New Clark City with sidewalks that were wide enough for pedestrians to actually walk under the comfortable shade of trees. For one, he said the new city should not have gated communities, because these keep people from sharing roads, and therefore contributing to the traffic.

The BCDA said that only 3,500 hectares of the land would be developed, to be occupied by residential and commercial buildings, as well as government offices. This leaves most of the area preserved as green open spaces.

This may sound like a dream for some, especially for those who live in the poorly developed parts of Metro Manila, where some sidewalks are either too narrow, or too dark at night, that walking on the busy road may actually be a safer option.

The master plan Casanova launched was a design competition for the city, which was different from the usual bidding process. A design competition, he said, gave the agency an idea of what the project would look like and how it would work.

Difficult process

Whereas before, agencies put projects up for bidding even without design or concept in search of the lowest bid. This, he said, made the process difficult since the agency did not know how the building would look like and how it would function.

He said he got the idea from Singapore, particularly from its Urban Redevelopment Authority, which did a long-term and comprehensive planning approach in guiding the development of the city state.

He said a master plan was supposed to give the bigger picture, while specific details were fine-tuned as the project progressed.

“As you move along, building cities is like raising a child. You have a vision for your child, but then you don’t know how the child will turn out. It depends on how you nurture the child over the years,” he said.

“It would need adjustment over the years, but what’s important is the vision, the longer vision is still there,” he added.

In 2015, global firm Aecom won the competition for its conceptual master development plan for New Clark City, which it projected to have some 1.12 million residents and 800,000 workers.

Aecom, a premier infrastructure and support services firm with offices in more than 150 countries, continues to work with BCDA for its other projects to this day.

Casanova joined Aecom as its country representative after his five-year term in BCDA ended.

An Inquirer special report had recently shown that the New Clark City, which was called Clark for better name recall despite actually being located in Tarlac, displaced communities in the course of its ongoing development.

BCDA, under the leadership of current president and chief executive Vivencio Dizon, maintained that no indigenous community had been displaced because there was neither any ancestral domain nor any ancestral domain titles (CADT) for the area. Casanova maintains the same position, adding that there is a CADT covering 10,000 hectares outside of the city, which the state-owned firm wants to preserve.

Technically, no one was displaced because there was not any CADT to say otherwise. But while no community with a CADT was displaced, BCDA said in a statement that it had given financial assistance packages amounting to P300,000 per hectare “to all project-affected people, including IPs [indigenous peoples]/farmers.”

Visiting the city

Casanova last visited New Clark City in 2018. He plans to go there again this October, but not as a BCDA chief anymore or a company executive.

This time, he will go as a participant in a triathlon that would be held there. This would give him a chance to see how close the actual construction had been to the vision he had many years ago.

“It’s my flagship project. But credit must be given to everyone who worked in that, and the current administration,” he said. And to the credit of current BCDA Chief Vivencio Dizon’s leadership, there is now so much to see, especially with the SEA games fast approaching.

There was the Athletics Stadium, which BCDA said took inspiration from the crater of Mt. Pinatubo, a once tragic force of nature that ravaged Pampanga and nearby areas.

The stadium has 20,000 seats, along with a world-class 400-meter, nine-lane standard track.

There is also the Aquatics Center, which BCDA said took inspiration from the woven fish nets of local fishermen. It has 2,000 seats, a 10-lane competition pool, an eight-lane training pool, and a diving pool with a five-meter maximum depth.

Dizon said the facilities in New Clark City were the first major sports hub constructed by the government since the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, which was built more than eight decades ago or in 1934.

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