Urban revitalization of 21st century cities


ONE of the great things of being in the professions of Architecture and Urban Planning is the ability to effect lasting, sustainable changes in the communities, towns, cities, and countries that we have worked in. Building cities is not an easy feat, and even more turning around declining downtowns.

So, what are the major planning and urban design strategies for cities to revitalize urban areas into livable, dynamic, self-sufficient, sustainable, and culturally-rich communities?

Clean the waterfront
There are plenty of ways for cities to rebound back, and one of the first step towards this is through jump-starting waterfront development. I have always emphasized in my past articles on how elsewhere in the world people consider waterfronts as front door of activity. The objective of recreating waterfronts is not just to bring forth the appreciation of vital but often neglected assets, but to also allow changes to occur to improve the overall aura of a city.

Many waterfronts around the world have been successfully revitalized, while some are being planned to help its citizens to re-engage with their respective city’s natural assets. From the successful restoration projects of the Kallang River in Singapore, the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, the River Thames in London, to the planned Trinity River Corridor in Dallas and the Medellin Project in Colombia, these urban revitalization projects are just some of the few from all over the world that show the layered potentials, flexibility, multiplicity of purposes of transforming waterfronts.

The Pasig River Rehabilitation Project continues to be one Manila’s endearing and ambitious river revitalization projects, and Palafox Associates is honored to be part in the planning and urban design process of a more dynamic riverfront that encourages people to treat the river and its waterways as the front door of development, not the opposite.

Preserve our built heritage
Usefulness is something that heritage buildings often grapple with, especially in the Philippines, where the rapid urbanization near and in our historic districts have permeated the very walls of our historic heritage buildings, making their strong walls porous and brittle. These landmark buildings that once stood proud and erect over the Philippine landscape have now become neglected structures, living in the shadows of newer developments.

Our built heritage can be revitalized into a more contemporary, adaptive re-use that preserves the cultural charm and traditional character of our cities and towns. The French actually have a term for adaptive alteration, la mise en valeur. By making an area of land more useful, it not only increases land value for the site and its surrounding areas, but it offers a better way for people to be reminded of its historical importance.

Palafox Associates has been involved in a number of conservation and revitalization of our built heritage. Among them are the redevelopment of the Manila Polo Club, La Mesa Eco Park, the Ilocos Norte Tourism Master Plan, the urban renewal of the city of Manila, and most recently, the adaptive reuse project of the Army and Navy Club.

Create livable and vibrant urban neighborhoods
Many community development plans now revolve on the stimulating new development for its urban neighborhood through initiatives and programs that support local businesses. The next step to this process is to make ensure cleanliness and safety for its citizens. New York, through its Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was famously known for his zero-tolerance policy for crime during his reign as mayor.

In Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, cities should attract and retain workers in knowledge-based jobs such as graphic designers, programmers, artists, writers, and so on, for they are considered a key factor in the economic development in cities. Also, by improving services and amenities for existing residents (like improving parks, and kid-friendly recreational areas) can do a lot for our cities. Like in all major city development and redevelopment projects around the world, there has been a surge in the demand for and access to green space near where people want to live in

Branding urban neighborhoods to promote tourism and creating creative spaces and programs for people to express and appreciate the local art and culture scene highly contributed to a vibrant neighborhood. Culture is a great catalyst for urban revitalization and our cities are still working their way into providing and maintaining cultural facilities and cultural initiatives that are accessible to the public.

Let’s face it. Planning for urban revitalization of cities is not easy in this country, where it takes (based on my experience) decades to transition from concept to commitment to completion.

Elsewhere in the world, urban revitalization is the primary goal of local developers and planners and are often supported by their own respective governments, non-profit organizations, and the business communities. The architects, planners, and designers are given the challenging and exciting task of replanning, redesigning, rebuilding declining downtowns, not necessarily to create new ones, but in the hope of achieving urban renaissance.

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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