Special Feature

The Metropolis and its Capital Dreams: Part I

Recently, there has been a proposal put forth by Philippine Senator Antonio Trillanes to move the capital of the Philippines to a new location, away from the congested, urban planning-challenged, traffic-infested, flood and earthquake-prone Metropolitan Manila. While this Urban Roamer has his doubts as to whether this proposal will push through, (as with many examples, but I digress) it must be noted that this latest proposal is just part of a long and tangled history we have with regards to planning a national capital. Thus, let this entry tell you the saga of a national capital, a story filled with hopes and plans that have been unrealized and gone awry.


The idea of a national capital actually began in the early 1900s, during the early years of American rule in the country. Partly fueled by a desire of transforming Manila into a model “American city,” America wanted to showcase its might as a rising colonial power. To help achieve this, the American colonial government tapped an architect and urban planner by the name of Daniel Burnham to create what would be the city’s first comprehensive development plan.

Part of the plan was the creation of a National Mall complex on what is now the area of Rizal Park. I have written about it in a previous entry about Rizal Park so I won’t elaborate much here, but I’ll sum it up here anyway. So the gist of the plan was that the Capitol or the National Legislature would be built on one end of the park facing Taft Avenue with the Rizal Monument on the other end, inspired by the setup of Washington DC’s own National Mall with the setup of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, and the reflective pool in between them.

from the web: an aerial shot of Rizal Park and its layout compared with…
Washington’s “National Mall” with Washington Monument and the Capitol on each end of the mall (from the web)

Eventually the issue of funding in realizing this National Capitol project took so much time that when the new Philippine legislature was to be opened in 1916, it had to make its own in what was supposed to be the National Library became the Legislative Building itself. And what was to supposed to be a temporary arrangement became more of an “indefinite long-term” set-up.

the planned Capitol Building that was supposed to be built across the Rizal Monument which was never made (from the web)
what wouild become the Legislative Building instead, which is currently the National Museum for the Visual Arts

While the plans for a national capital couldn’t seem to take off during the 1920s-1930s, Manila itself during that time was experiencing an economic boom, not to mention a population boom as a result. These things factored into the city’s unprecedented growth which warranted a reassessment of the plans for the city, especially the plans for the national capital. Then again, those plans were never fully realized yet in the first place.

It was this scenario that faced the self-governing Philippine Commonwealth government when it came to power in 1935. Pres. Manuel Quezon in particular decided that a new capital be created for the Philippines as it was deemed Manila was beginning to be too crowded for it to continue as the nation’s capital. What Quezon had in mind was a planned national capital in the mold of Mexico’s Mexico City, (which Quezon reportedly got his inspiration) India’s New Delhi, and Australia’s Canberra.

It was decided that the new capital would be moved to a new location, to what was then a vast and forested area of hilly terrain 14 kilometers northeast of Manila called Diliman to be the nucleus of this planned national capital.

to be continued…

Acknowledgements as well to Skyscrapercity

© The Urban Roamer

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