Cities vie in livability contest

Posted on March 13, 2014

TWENTY-ONE cities are competing for the best plan for a sustainable, “disaster-resilient” locality, according to a briefing in Makati City last Tuesday on the March 11-13 2nd Annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative Forum (PCSI) of Asia Society and the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

A man rebuilds his house in Tacloban City four days after typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) swept through the area on Nov. 8 last year. -- AFP
The forum gathers experts from around the world to discuss best practices and new approaches for developing sustainable cities across Asia and the Pacific that will not only survive but also thrive amid extreme weather and other effects of climate change.

“The urgency of preparing for climate change is especially significant in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan and its reconstruction efforts,” according to an official statement on the forum.

Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) scoured central Philippines on Nov. 8 last year, leaving more than 6,000 individuals dead as well as agriculture and infrastructure damage in excess of P39.821 billion.

The National Economic and Development Authority had said the following month that recovery and reconstruction in the storm’s wake would require approximately P361 billion worth of investments.

The Liveable Cities Design Challenge was launched during the PCSI by the National Competitiveness Council (NCC), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2015 National Organizing Council, World Wildlife Fund, and the Alliance for Sage and Sustainable Reconstruction, together with Asia Society and ULI.

This is an urban planning and design competition whose objective is to get city planners across the Philippines to better plan their respective cities and municipalities with disaster-risk reduction and other requirements of climate change as key considerations.

“We have thought of this for a long time, but (typhoon Yolanda) really put a sense of urgency to this particular project,” Guillermo M. Luz, NCC private sector co-chairman, said in the March 11 press conference.

“Our idea was to create fun, vibrant and safe cities -- one [sic] that people long to live in, to work in, to invest in and to visit.”

Citing official 2012 state data showing 63% of the country’s population live in urban areas, Mr. Luz described “cities as main growth centers of population, consumption and resource use.”

“In order to build a competitive country, we need to build competitive cities,” Mr. Luz stressed.

Twenty-one cities have joined the competition, namely: Angeles, Bacolod, Baguio, Baybay (Leyte), Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Cebu, Iloilo, Legazpi, Marikina, Olongapo, Ormoc (Leyte), Pasay, Pasig, Roxas, San Fernando (La Union), Surigao, Tacloban, Valenzuela and Zamboanga.

Each team representing the cities must come up with a Strategic Vision and Plan for a Resilient and Liveable City and are going to compete in one of two categories, namely:

• developing a disaster-resilient government center; and

• developing an APEC meeting venue.

They will then be committed to completing the three phases of the competition, starting with participation in PCSI where they are oriented on key principles of livable city planning and design, courtesy of experts. The second phase involves working with mentors to develop plans and designs, while the final phase this August will have the teams finalize their designs for presentation to judges.

Gloria D. Steele, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission director for the Philippines and the Pacific Islands, said “cities that win” will qualify for USAID technical assistance to help them enhance competitiveness and sustainability, involving such sectors as “clean” energy, education, health care, and macroeconomic growth.

Asked how a city should start planning for sustainable development, Mr. Luz said each one “must play on its own strength.”

“It depends on what market [each city] is after: are you going for a retiree market, a younger market, are you positioning yourself as a university town or a heritage town or arts town or a tourism destination?” he said.

“You have to capture your essence and build around that.”

Mr. Luz noted, for instance, that Balanga City, Bataan has been positioning itself as “a university town... building everything around young people and businesses that will attract them so they will not migrate to Metro Manila.”

“People think differently. If you look at Legazpi, it’s trying to position itself as a convention place because they realized that people go down just to see Mayon (volcano) -- one look at it and there’s nothing else to do,” he noted further.

“So they’re thinking how to make people stay, like Camarines Sur that became a destination for water sport enthusiasts,” Mr. Luz added.

“They’re thinking of more than one thing that will make people come back and even stay and invest.” -- Z. B. Chua