Neighborhood planning for a post-pandemic period | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Neighborhood planning for a post-pandemic period

Even as we are currently engaged in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, we should be thinking now of how we can replan in spatial terms our local government units in anticipation of similar pandemics in the future. I am thinking of how we can introduce spatial planning interventions in our neighborhoods, puroks, and barangays so that we can create “natural” lockdown areas that discourage dangerous long-distance movements and that lend themselves easily to government lockdown delineations.

Aside from the current preoccupation of LGUs with updating their comprehensive development and land use plans, the Local Government Code also mandates them to subsequently update the plans of their respective barangays as guided by their town plans. This should now be the time when greater attention is given to updating barangay plans–especially their component puroks or neighborhood units–to address the need to neutralize the impact of future pandemics and other disasters.

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The geographic entity that would lend itself well to creating natural lockdown areas would be the neighborhood and its resident community. This is because the neighborhood area is characterized by compactness and accessibility of services for living, working, playing, and learning in. Ideally, the neighborhood is walkable and bikeable, has convenient services for daily needs, mixed land uses, low traffic speed, accessible parks and recreation areas, and is marked by primary face-to-face social relationships.

In the literature on neighborhood planning, the seminal works of Clarence Perry and his contemporaries prescribe a walkable radius of one-fourth to one-half mile from the center where the elementary school should be located. And the population needed to support the school should range from 5,000 to 10,000 residents. There are actually many ways of identifying such neighborhoods. In the Philippines, it can be the purok which serves as the unit for delivering services and administration within a barangay. Neighborhoods can also be based on a physical feature, an ethnic grouping, a government housing project, a major street, a neighborhood association, or an informal settlement. The last one, however, should be transformed posthaste by the LGU into a medium-density socialized housing settlement located in another place, considering that it is a potential virus superspreader.

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My experiences with securing essential needs during this pandemic point not to a historical elementary school center but to a practical and sustaining focal point. I am proposing the setting-up of an accessible neighborhood wet and dry market or shopping center complex focal point that will not only allow the development of a community life marked by wholesome primary social relationships, but will also allow the provision of much-needed fresh foods that cannot be easily provided by Grab, Lazada, and other courier services. And, more importantly, such a walkable focal point will create a “natural” lockdown area since it will lessen considerably risky intra- or inter-city movements using crowded jeepneys and buses. Furthermore, the community cohesiveness that has developed through time will tend to be protective of its health and survival interests.

In the marketplace or shopping center complex which should be proximate to other services and establishments in the neighborhood, the participation of the informal sector composed of vendors and hawkers should be encouraged, and some should even be upgraded by the DTI through its entrepreneurial program for micro, small, and medium enterprises. Of course, it goes without saying that marketplace interactions should always be regulated through strict observance of pandemic protocols. Thus, in this planning scheme, the spread of the pandemic is not only minimized but, equally important, economic activities are also allowed to operate and in the process contribute toward boosting a distressed national economy.

If realized, this setup brings to mind the halcyon image of the Greek agora, which served not only as a marketplace but also as a venue for relief from isolation, boredom, and loneliness.

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Meliton B. Juanico is a retired professor of geography at UP Diliman and a licensed environmental planner.

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TAGS: Commentary, meliton b. juanico, post-pandemic planning
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