The RE-century in planning and architecture

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OUR city is a reflection of who we are. It is the physical manifestation of our inner most longings and culture. It is a place where social tradition, care for the natural environment and ecology, the way we live, earn our living, and the type of politics we embrace come together. In short, the way our city is planned and built reflects our identity as citizens.

Every day, citizens of Metro Manila are complaining about the transportation nightmare, inaccessibility of sidewalks, lack of open and green spaces, consistent flooding, fears of unpreparedness for calamities and impact of climate change, to name a few.

When I was a student in Harvard, my professor told me that this century is a RE-century. We now have the opportunity to re-imagine, re-plan, re-architecture, re-design, re-engineer, re-develop, renew, reduce, reuse, recycle, and hopefully towards an urban renaissance. Two weeks ago, the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP) held its 24th National Convention, with the theme “Reimagining the Filipino city.” There were various presenters from the private sector, the academe, and the government. The Convention covered a range of topics from social equity and dynamics, human development, economic development, environmental sustainability, to city livability and resiliency among others.

There are three key messages from the Convention that I would like to share:


First, citizens should be involved in the planning process of the cities; second, the government should update the laws to conform to the changing climate and strictly implement such laws; third, the private sector should come together to holistically make society more sustainable in terms of social impact, environmental optimization, and economic profitability.

Citizen-centric planning
The biggest issue that we need to admit is that our city was not made by the citizens, but by few people in power. Their approach to development tends to be short-term and opportunistic rather than long-term and visionary. Along the way, culture and tradition is lost because the city is not built on how people imagine themselves living in it. This is the most fundamental principle in urban and regional planning, and in city building. Participatory planning should be a dialogue between planners and the people who will be affected by the plan.

In all my previous articles, there are three plans that I always refer to because of theircontinuity. These include Daniel Burnham’s plans for Manila and Baguio, the 1977 World Bank-funded MMETROPLAN, and my vision for the Manila Megalopolis 2021. Most of the concerns and issues that were brought up during the convention were addressed in these plans. They focused on human-centric cities, meaning people are encouraged to walk and interact in the streets, and hence wide pedestrian walkways with tree-lined paths. Urban mobility infrastructures such as the proposed eight LRT lines for Manila could have discouraged the necessity of cars, which occupy most of our streets. A good plan also ensures that the city is sustainable and livable, while culture, heritage, and environment are not lost in favor of economic gains.

Visionary leadership, political will and public-private partnership
Mumbai in India has many similarities with Metro Manila. Both cities carry the same ills of poor planning. The rivers were filled with trash. Many families slept on the streets. Most of the communities were prone to fire because of flimsy construction materials. A number of buildings have also collapsed and more are expected to be damaged in the event of an earthquake and other disasters.

In the recent years, however, the government of Mumbai realized that the city does not represent its vibrant culture. The city was becoming grim, squalid, and expensive. Thus, the rehabilitation of Mumbai began with the creation of the Remaking of Mumbai Federation (ROMF). Its mission is to save the lives of its people, rebuild their homes, and improve their socio-economic condition. In order to do this, the government, in partnership with multi-disciplinary experts, organizations, and the private sector, will redevelop 32,000 buildings that were found to be structurally unsound. With visionary leadership and political will, like what the leaders of Mumbai have exhibited, we can take the cue from Mumbai and start saving and improving the lives of many citizens. We can also start by identifying dilapidated buildings and push for their redevelopment.

Addressing the epidemic of uglification
Elsewhere in the world, urban revitalization is the primary goal of local developers and planners and is often supported by their respective governments, non-profit organizations, and the business communities.

In Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group, we take pictures of areas in the Philippines that badly need improvement, and then reimagine them into places that bring value to the community. We send our proposed designs to mayors and other public officials, calling our perspectives as “Postcards from the Future,” in hope that these images will inspire those in power to take action.

A rebirth of a culturally and economically depressed city is a monumental task, and it is up to our government officials, developers, architects, planners, and designers to have the honesty, integrity, the vision, and the commitment to see everything into its eventual completion.

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