Towards better, safer, smarter, sustainable and resilient cities



MARAWI should learn from the mistakes of the rebuilding of Tacloban after Typhoon Yolanda. Even though I have high hopes for Tacloban, it seems that its rebuilding effort is steering towards a challenging direction. Until now, Tacloban has not fully recovered. It has built bunkhouses that cannot accommodate a family of five, with only around 8 square meters per unit. At least 21 square meters is needed to achieve a dignified and gender-sensitive space that we can properly call a habitable transient home (not bunkhouse). Moreover, urban sprawl is taking form in the city again. Accessibility through walking, biking, and mass transport, as well as development of truck and cargo roads has yet to be seen.

Tacloban has the chance to become the model city for disaster resiliency and climate change adaptation, but the opportunity will not always be there. It needs to immediately re-plan and re-design with sustainability, livability, and new urbanism principles in mind. Rebuilding is supposed to be an opportunity to uplift the lives of the citizens by correcting previous physical, special, social, environmental and economic mistakes.

Build Marawi better

Marawi has the chance to become an international, interfaith, Islamic city that is a global museum for peace. We should not forget what terrorism can do to a country, city, and to the people. I recommended that the areas that were most severely destroyed should be preserved as ruins. It should teach the youth that extremism is never the answer. Extremism has no place in our society.

The ruins can also reveal how terrorists take advantage of poor urban design, such as having high blank walls, narrow alleyways, and house basements being transformed into underground armories and fortresses. When I went back to school at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2001, we were taught that criminals are not scared of high walls because it lessens chances of having a potential witness.

Marawi can also be the model city for security by design in Asia. By developing Marawi into a walkable, bikeable, and pedestrian-oriented city, with a network of parks and open spaces, social interaction will be much higher.

Lake Lanao is also the natural cultural, spiritual, and strategic center of the province. It can interconnect the cities through coastal promenades, water transport, and waterfront development.

The urban future of Mindanao

For a long time, it seemed that Mindanao was perceived as the backdoor to the Philippines. A closer look at the world map would show that Mindanao has a great opportunity to be the country’s front door to Southeast Asia and Oceana.

Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi are so rich in culture and diversity that is unique and cannot be found elsewhere in the country. Davao is fast becoming one of the most critical trading hubs of the country. I think more than half of the people in Metro Manila have not visited Mindanao. Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga have the opportunity to attract more local tourists, and Davao should attract more tourists from the Oceana countries.

With these gateway cities in mind as economic and trade hubs, it is important to develop primary, supplementary, and complementary production hubs, such as food production, raw-material processing, and education, that will expand the value chain of businesses.

Central Mindanao can become one of the models for an agropolitan (the farm in the city) development where food production and city life are well integrated. We can adopt and enhance Japanese and Thai technology, and also learn from the agricultural communities of Vietnam. What will make Mindanao agriculture standout is that we will learn from the technology and practice of our neighbors, but our species are naturally sweeter. We probably have one of the sweetest mangoes, bananas, and pineapples in the world! Whenever I talk to foreigners, one of the things about the Philippines they cannot forget besides Manila’s chaotic traffic is the fruits. China and Japan are some of our biggest fans. What farmers in Mindanao should develop is pride of brand.

East and West of Mindanao have the chance to adopt both aerotropolis (airport-driven city) and aquapolis (seaport and water transportation- driven city) models. In a value chain, the raw materials and processing of goods will be coming from central Mindanao, as well as research and technology centers for agricultural production. Then the edges become the central business districts, logistics and trade hubs, and major commercial centers.

Prioritizing devtprojects in Mindanao

Under the Duterte administration, the allocated budget for both the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Mindanao Development Authority increased significantly. Infrastructure projects are also already in the pipeline like the Mindanao Railway System that will total 2,000 kilometers in length. The proposed railway system will interconnect Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, General Santos, Surigao, Lanao and Iligan. Other infrastructure projects in Mindanao will include the upgrading and modernization of airports and seaports, as well as road networks that will improve access to tourism destinations and farm-to-market roads. Another important crucial infrastructure that Mindanao should address is power, with a healthy mix of industrial and alternative energy, and potable water.

I believe with visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance, Mindanao can develop into a region that is much better than Metro Manila and can learn from its mistakes. Mindanao should adopt the globally competitive practices of the best countries of the world.


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