It has been predicted by leading economists that the Philippines, by 2025 will be the 19th top economy of the world, and by 2050, the 16th. Drawing from these forecasts, the Philippines is set to become the 21st largest economy in the world by 2021. We already know the strengths of the Philippines as a nation, its history, and evolution of urbanization and planning. But what about its development visions by 2021?
To quote from the Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” We Filipinos possess all the ingredients of success in the world, but we have yet to achieve our full development potential as a country by developing a culture of integrity by addressing corruption (towards good governance), criminality (towards peace and order), and climate change (towards environmental sustainability). As my professors at Harvard Graduate School of Design used to tell us, the 21st century will be a RE-century: Re-imagine, re-plan, re-design, re-use, reduce, recycle, redevelop towards an urban renaissance, guided by the triple bottom-line approach to development: People First (Social Equity), Planet Earth (Environment), and then Profit (Economy).
Back in time for the future
Periodically, a country needs to take a step back, look beyond its immediate needs, and think about its long-term future. We should step up and speed up from vision to concept, commitment, completion, and implementation. The recipe of most successful cities, I have learned, is not just establishing good leadership, but must also have a long-term economic strategy, an immense institutional capacity, well-financed infrastructure, high-quality education, and a constant pursuit towards design excellence.
Manila had the opportunity to create a unified city equal to the greatest of the Western world. However, the Laws of the Indies segregated people of various income classes—Intramuros (‘inside the walls’) for the ilustrados and principalia and Extramuros, ‘outside the walls’ for the indios, sangleys, and peasants. After we became an independent republic, the “City Beautiful” urban planning principle by planner Daniel Burnham was disregarded, and government leaders copied erroneously the car-oriented Los Angeles of the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in long commutes for employees from their residences to their offices. Manila’s empty lots and spaces in the city are filled in by informal settlers, who have moved to Manila in the hopes of finding a better living and future for their families. Metro Manila can be an urban laboratory for the mistakes made and lessons to be learned in urban planning and real estate development.
The vision plan 2021 puts forward a strategy to create urban development corridors by clustering major cities as urban growth centers to act as counter magnets to Metro Manila, spurring new investments nationwide and redevelopment opportunities in the other cities, creating jobs and economic opportunities for the urban poor in the provinces. A Manila Megalopolis 2020 vision that I put forward in my Harvard term paper back in 2003 showed how the Philippines can create pockets of efficiencies and strong regional economic activity by connecting major transportation nodes to decrease rural immigration to the already congested Metro Manila.
Philippines at 500
Hopefully, before our 500th anniversary, our country will achieve its aims to enhance the economic opportunity and provide a strong social support structure for people throughout the country. For a renaissance to happen, all of us should be open to new ideas that are creative, innovative and artistic, progressive and effective, short-term and opportunistic as well as long-term and visionary that must follow this new age of constant change.
Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. (FUAP, PIEP, APEC Architect, Harvard GSD and Intl. Associate AIA, APA, CTBUH Fellow) is the Principal Architect-Urban Planner, Managing Partner and Founder of Palafox Associates, which he founded in 1989. He served as former President of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) in 2011, the first Architect to do so. He is also the president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP) for 2013 and 2014.