• Resilient Cities and Communities

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    LAST February 26, 2015, I was fortunate to have been included as a panelist for the 2nd Powering Progress Together Asia conference organized by the Shell Company. The conference focused on the pressure on the world we live in to provide energy, food, and water, and how resilience is connected in alleviating such pressures on future resource.

    Resilience, according to the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in their study called Resilience Strategies for Communities at Risk, is described as “the ability not only to bounce back but also to bounce forward – to recover and at the same time to enhance the capacities of the community or organization to better withstand future stresses.” This entails being less vulnerable to disasters, recovering more quickly after catastrophes, and having a long-term plan in addressing future challenges.

    More than ever, climate change has manifested its ills in different regions across the globe. Extreme weather conditions happen more frequently, as well as an increase in the global temperature and rising sea levels. Typhoons have also grown in power since the 1970s, and are expected to grow stronger, as with other disaster risks. Elsewhere in the world, climate change adaptation and addressing vulnerability are being taken more seriously.

    Grosvenor, a global property group, undertook a three-year study they called Resilient Cities to rank the most resilient cities around the world. The study measures a city’s long-term resilience to determine which areas are best for property investments and developments. It found that most of the resilient cities are in North America like Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary in Canada as the top three and Chicago and Pittsburgh in the United States in fourth and fifth places, respectively. This is because Canada and the United States have effectively addressed vulnerabilities through proper planning, response, and funding. On the other end of the spectrum, most Asian cities like Manila, Jakarta, Mumbai, and Guangzhou are among the least resilient because of poor planning and exposure to environmental degradation.

    To compare, New York City not only recovered rapidly from 9/11 but also Hurricane Sandy. The Philippines, on the other hand, more than a year after Typhoon Haiyan and more than five years after Typhoon Ondoy, has still a long way to go in building back better, safer, smarter, and more sustainable communities. Such inefficiencies in addressing challenges in resilience could both potentially result in loss of life and property and turn away future investments in the Philippines, which are vital for our economic growth.

    Filipinos are resilient creatures, but on a macro-scale, we need to rely on the collaboration between visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance to improve our emergency training, enforce better building codes, and make sure that the money allocated for infrastructure improvement or development ends up helping those whose homes are most vulnerable. Palafox Associates, in its 25-year existence, has been a witness to the devastating effects of natural and man-made disasters in our country. We, the architects of Palafox Architecture Group, Inc. and the environmental planners, engineers, designers, and consultants of Palafox Associates, have volunteered our services to help communities post-disaster, and on a macro-scale, have sent recommendations to the Philippine government, cities and communities both here and elsewhere in the world.

    One of the most important parts of the recommendations that we sent Malacañang in 2010 after the devastation of Ondoy and the earthquake in Haiti was a 10-year program. To be accomplished from 2010 to 2020, the program is an initial plan and tentative scheme toward safer cities, towns, and communities. The government must promote flood-proof, fireproof and earthquake resistant measures by designating open spaces as evacuation places in urban areas, develop and strengthen urban facilities which can be used as comfortable disaster-proof living zones by creating individual citizen awareness for disaster prevention and response.

    Among the adaptation and mitigation measures proposed by Palafox Associates is the regular deepening of silted lakes, rivers, creeks, and other waterways, coupled with pollution abatement measures and proper solid waste management. This way, our water bodies can hold more floodwater and reduce flood levels. In line with this, the hills and mountains near the catch basins should be reforested to help absorb more floodwater. But more importantly, however, is the need to update Daniel Burnham’s 1905 plan for Metro Manila, the 2004 MMEIRS Report, the 1976-1977 Mmetroplan, and the 2003 Manila Megalopolis Concept Plan 2020 I submitted to Harvard to serve as guidelines for the LGUs, national government, and the citizens to follow.

    There is more to be done for the Philippines to effectively address the effects of climate change. ULI identifies different resilience strategies that cover land use and development, infrastructure, technology, capacity, finance, investment, insurance, leadership, and governance. To them, long-term resilience can be achieved through better planning before hazards become disasters, coordination between local and national government, regular review of policies, encouraging individual preparedness, knowledge sharing and professional training, among others. If public leadership, participation, and support are strong, immediate action, short-, medium-, and long-term resilience plan for the Philippines can definitely be achieved.

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