“The Bamboo that bends is better than the oak that resists.”
There is a big need to understand the cities that we have taken for granted, for these very same cities are our lifelines, our income generators, our source of pride. Typhoon Haiyan was a grim reminder that the country’s existing crisis management systems and adaptive capacities is in dire need of re-framing to generate new and long-term alternatives.
That’s why the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in partnership with the Center for Engaged Foresight, organized a four-day workshop and forum in Laoag, Ilocos Norte last week. The theme, Resilient Cities, Brighter Futures, is the first forum workshop in the Philippines that focused on anticipatory planning and strategic foresight to come out with a collective reflection and innovative solutions to reframe the future of Philippine cities.
Studying the future
If we don’t step back and look at the big picture, we will run out of future real fast. This is what Dr. Sohail Inayatullah, one of the world’s most influential futurists and key facilitator of the workshop stressed. “Once you’ve looked at the data, determined what it means to you, we need to know what has not been said and what you will do from it.”
As a futurist, Inayatullah employs future time to transform the present through a deeply democratic process. He helps organizations and institutions move from the default future (which is often the used or the disowned future) to the preferred future.
Failing to plan for the future is planning to fail. As one of the speakers and participants in the forum, I presented on the climate change status and disaster management in some parts of the country based on my experience as an architect and urban planner in 38 countries the past 42 years to give a better picture of what the future holds in store for the Philippine cities. Each city varies enormously in terms of adaptation and vulnerability, two important factors that determine a city’s resiliency. Just like societies, a city’s adaptive capacity is dependent on governance, institutions, technology, wealth and the propensity to plan. A city’s resilience must be looked at from the business context and the human context. In the business context, a city’s resilience depends on how the real estate industry has been able to create places where people can live, work, and enjoy life. Population growth directly affects a city’s resiliency, so if the exponential increase in population in our cities are not addressed, our cities become vulnerable.
Many cities around the world have already rehashed their default futures into their preferred futures. In the US, towns and cities have moved away from “Big is Better,” and are now focusing on developing “small, livable communities” with very good results. Cities like New York and Portland have successfully pushed and executed initiatives and city plans because of their participatory governed, forward-rallying communities. To put into perspective, New York’s ambitious city plan, PlaNYC, covered multiple aspects of the city, from energy to housing, to investment in green infrastructure and economic opportunity up to 2030. Within a year of its release, over 97% of the 127 initiatives in the plan had been launched.
Postcards of the future
Life is too short to think small. This is what I learned from renowned Architect and Planner Daniel Burnham, who was tasked to plan Manila in 1905 and Baguio and Chicago in 1909. He said: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in high hope and work. Remember that a noble diagram, once recorded, will never die. But long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever growing insistence. Remember that our sons and daughters are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watch word be Order and beacon Beauty.”
That’s why in most of my speaking engagements, I have always included near the end of my presentations a section on “Postcards of the Future” to show my advocacy towards more resilient, sustainable, and smart Philippine cities and communities. Our architects, planners, designers, engineers, and staffers of Palafox Associates would take photos of neglected spaces and the uglification in our cities and render an uplifted, better planned urban design and architectural perspectives and sent to the offices of the respective city mayors for them to “reflect” on. This is our way of helping in nation building, urban renewal and create urban spaces that are free from physical blight, deterioration, and uglification.
Some mayors in Metro Manila, when we send them these postcards, finally see the higher redevelopment potential for their respective cities and what it could become given the right resources and directions for their cities and communities through architecture and urban planning. So far, this advocacy got us the Pasig River Rehabilitation project and the urban renewal of some cities in Metro Manila , so it is definitely working. When these postcards get implemented, it becomes a catalyst for change, and help increase profitability, vibrancy, utility, and pride in our cities. It is my hope that, just like our firm’s advocacy towards better planned cities and communities, other cities in the Philippines will follow suit.
It’s quite sad that the Filipino bahala na (fatalistic) attitude has drastically impaired our ability to think and plan long-term. Our decision-makers think their duty is only to listen to the people instead of becoming an expert on the subjects which they must decide on. A shared understanding of its strengths, weaknesses, and underlying opportunities can greatly help our cities use the future more effectively for city strategic planning, policy-making, and decision making to transform our cities in a climate change driven era. “As an architect, if you’re not an optimist, you’re not going to survive professionally,” Sir Norman Foster, world-renowned architect once said. “You have (to have) a belief in the future.” In the same manner, all of us, whether you are an architect, planner, government official, local expert, or simply a citizen, need to work together to create a more resilient, brighter future for our communities. Successful cities and progressive countries have visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design and good governance toward better future and resilient cities.