Local cities lack elements to become livable

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In Photo: Rockwell Center

THE bahala na (fatalistic) attitude is one of the character flaws of Filipinos. It is quite unfortunate that this has affected the ability of the people, especially of its leaders, to think and plan for the long term.

Tala Marina Club City, Al Khobar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

“Our decision-makers think their duty is only to listen to the people instead of becoming an expert on the subjects which they must decide on. A shared understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and underlying opportunities can greatly help our cities use the future more effectively for strategic city planning, policy-making and decision-making to transform our cities in a climate-change driven era,” explained urban planner and architect Felino Palafox Jr. in his book The Philippines: Towards Resilient Cities and Communities.

Palafox, the principal architect and founder of Palafox Associates, recently launched the book in Makati City.

In the open forum, Palafox urged government leaders to take a serious look the sustainable models pursued by Asian cities, such as Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore and the vertical urbanism of European countries.

Tarlac Medical Center

He lamented that the cities led by Metro Manila and other urban centers in the country followed the urban-planning principles, car-oriented and strict zoning of Los Angeles, Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Palafox pointed out the New York model should have been followed by local urban planners. “New York adapted urban planning and transport reforms,” Palafox said.

“The car is the last priority of urban transport. Walking, biking and public transport become top priorities,” he added.

Palafox recalled the World Bank lent a helping hand to the government when it commissioned a master plan called the MMETROPLAN in 1975.  It pinpointed the transportation, land use and development planning issues of the burgeoning metropolis.

To cut the story short, the plan was aborted in 1986. It resulted in horrific consequences.

“After the People’s Power in 1986, all plans made by the previous administration—good or bad—were not followed or implemented. The ‘Do Nothing’ scenario in the MMETROPLAN, which was predicted as catastrophic, is happening today—catastrophic, flooding, traffic, transport and obsolete infrastructure, among others,” Palafox emphasized.

Palafox said urban planning should also factor in land use, water use and “to a certain extent, air use, integrating the entire ecosystem and make sure the smooth interaction of the natural environment and human behavior and needs.

For a city to become livable, Palafox pointed sustainability must be the top agenda, which will meet the needs of the current generation without “compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Moreover, he said cities must be also resilient to adapt to climate change and both man-made and natural disasters.

The cultural element must also be present to make the city livable so the people will be encouraged to recognize the value of cultural heritage and identity of the community.

“Citizens will have the time to observe and appreciate the monuments and museums that tell the story of human life. It allows humanity to flourish, letting them attain love, faith and happiness,” Palafox noted.

As far as the Philippines is concerned, Palafox said local cities have not met the criteria on the elements of livability.

“At least 10 million Filipinos, the majority of who live below the poverty line, do not have access to basic needs and many are still fighting for subsistence. I believe this is a consequence of unbalanced economic development in cities and regions,” he said.

He added democratizing the transport system is one major step to make a city livable. He added political leaders should walk the talk by taking the public transport to show there is social equity. He said it would be the day if Filipinos can see their leaders like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ride a bus or a train or Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa ride a bike to show that their cities are livable

“Cities like Seoul and Hong Kong have integrated transportation plans among different cities. Cities are not allowed to make their own transport plans, it should always be integrated,” he said.

Furthermore, local government units should enforce a strict zoning program, especially when it comes to informal settlers.

“Last, I suggest that we study other countries to understand how we can improve our own communities and cities,” Palafox stressed.

He said the government can learn a lot from the experiences of Seoul in developing a livable city despite having a dense population just like Metro Manila. Furthermore, Palafox said the Philippines should study the programs of Bogota in its bus rapid transit, and from the French and Italians for their water transport systems, from the River Seine and Grand Canals of Venice, respectively.