IN the bible, God created the surroundings first before man. This may not be in their minds, but esteemed Filipino architect and urban planner Felino Palafox and his partners want a similar thing to happen in various places in the Philippines, especially where nature’s beauty abounds.
“There are two approaches in tourism planning and development,” explains Karima Palafox, daughter of Arch. Palafox and managing partner of the family firm’s Palafox Associates. “The first is ‘build and they will come,’ such that investments like roads, an airport and seaport, water, drainage and sewerage system, and power facilities are implemented early on as catalysts for development. The second option is to have a wait-and-see attitude with the ‘build as they come’ approach.”
Palafox says the leaders of the municipal government of San Vicente in Palawan, the Department of Tourism, and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza) chose the first option.
“People are drawn to a place because of its natural qualities,” points out the young Palafox, who, like her father, is also an internationally accredited urban planner. “Visitors flock to the Cordillera to see the hanging coffins in Sagada and the rice terraces in Banaue. Divers visit Tubbataha, Malapascua, and Coron for the rich marine life, the thresher sharks and the shipwrecks. Four thousand visitors arrive in Boracay daily to experience the white beach. However, the irony is that the main attraction that draws people to a destination can be compromised with poor foresight, planning and management. It is for this reason that places with high potential for tourism should be master planned.”
Claim for international recognition
Palafox Associates has drawn up a master plan for the San Vicente town of Palawan as a Flagship Tourism Enterprise Zone. The plan is a finalist in the category for International Award for Planning Excellence at the 2016 Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence.
Architect Palafox says the master plan is a joint effort of local and national government and a multi-disciplinary team of experts. He says it aims to transform San Vicente into a liveable community, with inclusive transport and social services, and resilience to environmental risks. The plan prioritizes the place’s rich natural resources, unique landscape of beach and forests, and participation of its people.
According to the company, it made projections through 2044 to ensure that carrying capacities are considered in the long-term.
“The 14-kilometer beach will be the first in the Philippines to have a 50-meter setback (30 meters no-build and 20-meters of limited development) from the high tide,” Palafox said.
Current national policies require only 25 meters. The plan also features San Vicente’s agricultural land and promotes its mangroves and coral reserves for eco-tourism.
With 883 hectares land area, San Vicente in Palawan boasts of a 14-kilometer long beach, said to be the longest stretch of fine, white sand in the country. It is also home to a diverse marine life and a unique mix of landscapes like rice fields, waterfalls, mangroves, mountains, and forests.
San Vicente has a population of only 31,000. The welfare of the inhabitants is one of the goals of the proposed Integrated Tourism Masterplan.
“Before a town can be a world-class destination, it should first be a livable community,” stressed Karima Palafox.
Roads, airport, seaport, water, drainage and sewerage system, and power facilities will be built first in anticipation of future developments.
“One of the major considerations in the plan is disaster-preparedness,” the young Palafox said.
Palafox Associates recommended an ascending building height, nearest to farthest from the beach. For areas vulnerable to flooding, the structures will be designed on-stilts and there will be no bedrooms on the ground floor. Existing trees along the beach will be preserved and a 50-meter setback from the beach will also be implemented.
Based on the plan, San Vicente will be a well-connected, walkable, and bikable community. There will be access to the beach about every 400 meters and community centers will be within 800 meters from each other.
“The tourism master plan for San Vicente, Palawan calls for development guidelines and design standards that give respect to the area’s natural features and general terrain,” adds Karima. “An inclusive and high-end development is envisioned with emphasis on sustainable tourism, responsible commercial development, and protection of ecologically and culturally-significant areas.
The RTPI represents 23,000 planning professionals worldwide and promotes spatial planning, shapes policy and raises professional standards. The Awards for Planning Excellence have been run by the RTPI for over 30 years to recognize planning excellence.
Finalists have been recognized for their national contribution to planning.
The master plan for San Vicente is the only one finalist from the Philippines, among eight finalists from other countries.
“The finalists highlight outstanding examples of planning that have made a positive impact on the local community and environment,” Andrew Jones, Practice Leader Design Planning + Economics of event sponsor AECOM said. “The judges will find it difficult separating the finalists and choosing winners given the high caliber of entries this year.”
“The finalists this year reflect the positive impact planning has on our communities across the UK, Ireland, and internationally through projects, plans and people,” David Jackson, head of planning at real estate services firm Savills, meanwhile, opined.
The awards ceremony will be held at Milton Court at The Barbican, London on May 5, 2016.
The town of San Vicente
San Vicente, in the northwestern side of the main island of Palawan, has attracted visitors and investors with its pristine beaches, marine life, rice fields and 82,000 hectares of forests. Tieza has tapped Palafox Associates to create the master plan for the flagship Tourism Enterprise Zone through bidding.
“The master plan aims to strike a balance between providing for the common good and respecting property rights, and encouraging investments while preserving areas of natural beauty and cultural significance,” Palafox said.
The 14-kilometer beach and an average of 500 meters inland bound the 883-hectare area.
According to the planners, it would be the first coast in the Philippines to have a 50-meter setback from the high tide—the first 30 meters is a no-build zone and additional 20 meters of non-habitable, non-permanent structures.