• Rebuilding Marawi ‘better and safer’



    THANK you for the affirmation of our initial recommendations for Marawi. Our team were in Marawi when it was liberated, and we were able to give our assessments to the generals who accommodated us. And we hope that the recommendations we gave to the team of Defense Secretary Lorenzana will be adopted and used by the other agencies. At present, the Department of Defense has already turned over the responsibility of the rehabilitation and development to other government agencies.

    For the past few weeks, friends from the Muslim community met with me to share the challenges and issues they are encountering in the current rehabilitation efforts. They shared with me that they think that they were not being consulted properly and there was a lack of community participation. There were some questions raised regarding the plan and design of the housing units being built.

    I believe despite these challenges the city of Marawi will rise from the ashes and could potentially become a model city like Dubai. It should be safe, sustainable, smart, walkable, bikeable, inclusive, international, inter-faith, Islamic. Marawi can become the city of peace. It will preserve, show, and remind us and the rest of the world what terrorism can do. Terrorism is a selfish act of a certain few who do not truly care for the community. It has no place in society, especially for a society which is trying to move towards peace. Achieving peace does not mean zero conflict and arguments, but it is committing to reasonable discourse and improvement.

    In this article, I would just want to share again some of the recommendations I sent and wrote in previous articles in the past few months.

    First, many were talking about building back Marawi. It should be building back Marawi “better and safer.” After the bombing of 9/11, I went back to study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design to learn about the importance of security by design. I learned that building high walls do not effectively deter crime; as a matter of fact, it encourages crime. If someone throws a grenade over the wall, no witnesses. If someone puts up a drug den, no witnesses. If an armory and tunnels were already being built, like the case of Marawi, no witnesses. Criminals are not afraid of walls, they are afraid of windows and open spaces because of the possibility of potential witnesses. As we were going around ground zero, my colleagues and I noticed how high the walls of the houses were, especially some of the homes of the terrorists that we passed by. Sniper positions of the enemy were also difficult to suppress because of low urban visibility caused by bad architecture and practices.

    Two, the locals should be involved in the planning and development. Those who can immediately help Marawi are the local architects and engineers, as well as those who are in the other field of disciplines in the built and natural environment. It is for the children that we are trying to build a better society and it is with them that we should rebuild the city better. The local citizens should be involved in every step of the way and there should be a balance of socially acceptable recommendations and world standard recommendations.

    Three, limited rehabilitation of the damaged parts of the city. Maintain ground zero and build new and expansion cities around it. The schools, hospitals, and places of worship and other institutions should be rebuilt, then a portion of the ruins should be preserved as a reminder that terrorism can destroy a city. It can be designed like Hiroshima and Nagasaki wherein thousands of tourists flock to the site be reminded of the devastating effect of the atomic bomb. When I was there a few months ago for my birthday, I saw how the tourists felt engage with the memorial.

    Four, Marawi should not be car-oriented and should strictly impose the building code and aim at higher international standards. When we were going around ground zero, we noticed how narrow the streets were. Prior to the war, the city was already experiencing traffic congestion. We also noticed that some of the houses and establishments were already encroaching on the streets with no sidewalks in some of the areas. No proper drainage and sewerage systems were also in place. Wire and overhead utilities can also be placed underground.

    Five, update the comprehensive land use and zoning ordinance of the province, as well as the comprehensive development plan. It is through these plans that world-class architecture and planning principles will be institutionalized by preparing local ordinances. It will also serve as the guide and unifier of the vision of the people of the city. Public consultations and participation should be practiced during the re-planning of Marawi.

    Six, develop and update the development plan of the entire province of Lanao, most especially the cities and municipalities around Lanao Lake, the second largest in the country. The key to sustainable and smarter development is aligning the land use, zoning, transportation and development plans of the adjacent cities and municipalities. Lanao Lake is as beautiful or potentially can be more beautiful through environmental enhancement than Lake Geneva.

    Seven, assure people that they will retain the land titles of their property regardless of the zoning ordinance. One of the biggest challenges and lessons learned from Yolanda is the difficulty of land management.

    There can be unity in diversity. Working for Dubai made me realize that religion is not a hindrance in developing cities and nations. When culturally and spiritually diverse countries assimilate into one society, there is economic vibrancy, proliferation of artists, and more appreciation for identity, and respect. We can take inspiration from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, and some European countries.

    After visiting and observing more than 2,000 cities in 74 countries, and being able to work and help 39 countries, I have observed there are only five ingredients of success: strong political will, visionary leadership, good planning, good design, and good governance. With these key ingredients, I believe that there will always be hope to build back better, safer, smarter, and more sustainable cities and communities in the Philippines, especially in Marawi and Lanao.


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