• Tourism and disaster mitigation



    I had an unexpected trip around Pampanga last Friday, and I was surprised to see that Pampanga has a lot of beautiful sceneries that remain hidden. Who would have thought that such sceneries were only two to three hours away from Metro Manila? After more than 40 years of becoming an architect and urban planner, going around the world and around the Philippines, the ecological splendor of our country never ceases to surprise me.

    Exploring Pampanga
    With the invitation of the Governor of Pampanga Lilia Pineda, and the former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, we went around Pampanga. In the hillside of Floridablanca, we saw a scenery of hills and mountain ridges. An hour further from the site, you will reach the Pinatubo National Park on the North West, and the Mt. Arayat National Park on the North East.

    Around past four of the afternoon, we went down to Lubao and visited a Bamboo garden that was along the Porac River. It was filled with towering bamboo stalks, and picnic tables facing the river. Looking out to the river, I thought that it is indeed an interesting prospect to interconnect the river and stream systems of Pampanga through water transport. The water system cuts across different geographic sceneries, from valleys, wetlands, to plains. It will be a visual treat, at the same time a way to transport people in the different cities and communities of Pampanga.

    On another day, our team was also able to explore the uplands and wetlands East of Pampanga. The wetlands of Candaba house a bird sanctuary that migratory birds also visit.

    Natural disaster mitigation
    Rivers, coastlines, mountain ridges, and volcanoes are blessings that come with extra responsibilities. These natural tourism sites have the capacity to become economic generators and can also alleviate potential disasters.

    River systems are natural catch basins, and have the potential to be developed into a water transport system which can give access to different parts of the city. Along the river banks of France’s Seine River, tourists enjoy the scenery of the Eiffel Tower and the Pont Neuf Bridge. Similarly tourists can enjoy access to various parts of the city with alfresco dining along the banks of the Grand Canal of Venice.

    But apart from being modes of transport, these rivers are well-maintained to accommodate higher water capacity through dredging and deepening. Urban flooding caused by heavy rains is drained through a well-designed sewage system that goes to water-treatment facilities and to the rivers, and the rainwater is pumped into the river as well.

    Rivers and coastlines
    Urban flooding is a natural occurrence, but it becomes a disaster when the water cannot move from the streets to the natural catchment and water basins.

    This is the reason that land use and zoning along rivers and natural water catchment areas regulate the type of buildings and provide strict easements. No housing for human and even animal habitation should be allowed in these areas because they are the immediate recipient of flowing water, and in the event of heavy rains structures in these areas will be swept by strong currents. Apart from the rivers, there is also a need to appreciate the impact of the contour of natural slopes and geography on the creation of natural waterways. These areas may not be part of a river, but it is through these paths that rainwater finds its way into the river. For low lying areas such as plains, water becomes stagnant.

    With these concrete issues in mind, I have been calling for the update of our country’s building code. In zoning, there is something we call “hazard mapping or hazard overlay zones.” It is only natural that these areas should also have special rules and regulation on building codes. For example, the areas near the river should not be habitable, and structures should be required to have at least two or three floors, depending on the highest flood height, as an evacuation area. Along identified waterways, there should be a requirement that the design of the homes be of “stilt design,” making the ground floor non-habitable.

    I have been advocating that adaptive architecture should be integrated into our building codes, structural code, business permits, and zoning ordinances. Our plan for San Vicente in Palawan was cited by the Royal Planning Institute in London as one of the top 8 best planned cities of 2016, for imposing a horizontal 50 meter set-back along the coastline, and vertical requirements for habitable areas with the hazard zones.

    Mountain ridges and volcanoes
    In Albay, Mayon Volcano has been very active the past few years, and the flow of lava and spurts of sulfur are putting the citizens at risk. It also had an impact to some of its tourism activities whenever the volcano is experiencing some tremors. With creative ingenuity, to mark the safe kilometer radius away from the erupting volcano, a number of view decks were developed to indicate the “safe zone”. Apart of it becoming a safe zone, tourists can now enjoy the scenery of Mayon while lava flows down its vent.

    For Mountain ridges, the common developments are viewing decks and zip lines. Some zip lines allow the tourist to have the birds eye view of the site, and it allows indigenous tribes to develop cultural centers for tourists. The other practical use of these developments is that they create eyes to go against illegal logging and mining. It was taught to us in the Harvard Graduate School of Design that having “eyes on the street” decrease crime. Maybe we can apply the same principle and call it “the eyes on nature.” With this, more people can participate in protecting the environment.

    I believe with the right development principles, tourism areas can be partners in disaster mitigation.


    1 Comment

    1. The gov’t has spent billions on hazard mapping already, and most are still unaware of it. I have thought of a practical idea that would save the taxpayers money, it can be done if a system of hazard warning is encoded in the color back ground of the names of street signs.

      Anyway most Filipinos are too lazy to look up a map even if their life depended on it. For some years now I have been thinking that for anyone to be familiarized with hazard mapping, I believe the best way is to encode it is colored street signs, ff exs:

      a) “Red Zones” are all flood prone streets/areas settlements along riverbanks/coastal communities etc., the corresponding street signs should have red background, to warn that this is a highly flood prone area.

      b) “Orange Zones” should be the color of the street signs to designate less flood vulnerable or moderately elevated areas that are usually safe unless the flooding is very severe.

      c) “Green Zones” for color of street signs where you expect the most safety from flooding, being highly elevated with reliable drainage systems. By common sense it would be the area you would want to build or evacuate to.

      Then variations…

      d) “Violet Zones” use this street sign color for areas on active fault lines.

      e) “Brown Zones” are for streets that are at risk to landslide

      You can even also color code the individual house numbers to pin point specific location, for example all violet colored house numbers are on an active fault.

      Such color coded street sign warnings will be plain and simple to announce in times of emergency, instead of announcing the individual barangays affected.

      The government has already spent billions on hazard mapping, it would save a lot of taxpayers money to just color encode the hazard warning into street signs.

      ex. “…attention all residents with red signs in Marikina City, flood alert is in effect, prepare to evacuate.

      As people view these colored street signs on a daily basis, while they commute around they will become familiarized with streets (areas) to avoid specific during flood or other particular hazard.

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