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Consult urban planners in ‘5 Rs’ in typhoon areas

opinion / Columnists
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As I See It

Consult urban planners in ‘5 Rs’ in typhoon areas

/ 09:40 PM November 24, 2013

Our national and local officials can turn the destruction wrought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” into a blessing in disguise, now that we have entered the phase that I will call the “5 Rs”—relief, rehabilitation, relocation, reconstruction and recovery.

The typhoon has made much of Samar and Leyte, particularly Tacloban City in Leyte and Guiuan in Eastern Samar, a wasteland, with nothing left but debris. It is as if they were erased from the map.

Now is the chance to make well-planned and designed cities out of this wasteland. Urban planners and designers never had this chance before—a clean slate to plan and build on. Existing cities cannot be redesigned because of structures already standing. But with Tacloban and Guiuan (and perhaps also Ormoc City, which is also in Leyte) practically wiped out, planners can design cities as if they are to be built on vacant lands. Now is the chance to design and rebuild these places like the planned cities of Canberra in Australia, Brasilia in Brazil, and Islamabad in Pakistan.

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Most cities expand willy-nilly without much planning. Even when they are planned (like Quezon City and Baguio), the plans are not usually followed for some reasons. And even when the plan are indeed followed, the planners of yesteryears simply did not see the problems now being encountered by modern cities.

An example: In the planning of cities, the streets are laid out in grid-style—streets crossing one another. That was all right in the old days when there were much fewer motor vehicles.  Planners never thought that the number of vehicles would balloon so much as to make the grid-style arrangement of streets a source of traffic jams. Traffic is held up at street intersections, waiting for the traffic light to change to green. This is true even in relatively new cities like the Bonifacio Global City. It is not complete yet, but already traffic builds up at street intersections.

Modern designers now make maximum use of flyovers and underpasses to avoid street intersections. And modern designers now pay attention to the environment. Even wealthy cities have now become concrete jungles.

Not-so-wealthy ones breed slums. Singapore is trying to erase the slums by razing them and building new communities in their place.

That cannot be done in most cities. But now it can be done in Tacloban, Ormoc and Guiuan.

President Aquino has created task forces for the reconstruction of damaged communities. Urban planners and designers should be made part of these task forces.

The new communities should have a minimum of street intersections (to avoid the traffic gridlocks that we are now experiencing in Metro Manila) and make maximum use of flyovers and underpasses. Then there should be one big central park and many smaller ones in every city.

The building code should be amended to make houses and buildings stronger, strong enough to withstand typhoons like Yolanda and intensity 7 earthquakes. Shorelines should have mangrove forests to protect the communities from tsunamis and storm surges. Remember, Samar and Leyte are in the typhoon belt and more, stronger typhoons should be expected because of climate change.

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Every city needs parks not only to provide residents with more open spaces but also for greenery to absorb more carbon dioxide and produce more oxygen.

Yolanda provided the Philippines with an excellent chance to rebuild well-designed, environment-friendly cities. Don’t waste that chance.

* * *

Squatting syndicates have reared their ugly heads in Boracay. A corporation cannot begin building its five-star hotel on the island because a group of squatters has occupied its property and refuses to leave.

The Department of Tourism has been promoting Boracay as a premier tourism destination. Recently, the province of Aklan has announced its plan to turn Boracay into a “cruise ship hub.” The DOT will present its plans during the Asian Convention of Cruise Ships in Singapore scheduled late this year.

A number of local and international corporations have also announced plans to invest in tourism-related businesses in Boracay. According to media reports, property tycoon Andrew Tan of Megaworld, in partnership with McDonald’s, plan to invest around P15 billion in a project called Boracay New Coast. San Miguel Corp. is also renovating the Caticlan airport to upgrade its services.

These new developments will further enhance Boracay’s attractions. The government estimates that some 30,000 new jobs will be created.

However, these plans are now being threatened by squatting syndicates. Their modus operandi is basically the same as the squatting syndicates in Metro Manila.

First, they occupy a property. Second they build their shanties illegally and without permission. Third, they demand money from the legal owner.

One example: Demeter Holdings, a Boracay investor which is building a five-star hotel on the island, bought a property in Barangay Manoc-manoc, Malay, Aklan. It needs the lot as a supply transit area, equipment warehouse and temporary shelter for its workers.

However, squatters unlawfully entered the property and posted armed men there. They fenced off the property to prevent the real owners from entering the property. The five-star hotel project is now on hold.

Demeter has filed a case against a certain Edmundo Tolentino, a resident of Kalibo, Aklan. Tolentino is claiming he is the owner of the property but cannot show any proof or valid title in his name. He is also flouting his connection with a justice department prosecutor in the province. The government should help legitimate investors in Boracay. Otherwise, it will drive away others who would like to invest, too.

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TAGS: nation, news, Philippine disasters, Yolanda
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