Liveable cities | Inquirer Opinion
Business Matters

Liveable cities

/ 12:59 AM October 25, 2014

We need to build better cities in the Philippines. So a few months ago, we launched a Liveable Cities Design Challenge in partnership with Asia Society, Urban Land Institute, Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Reconstruction (Assure), Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), Apec 2015 National Organizing Council, Microsoft, and USAID. Our dream was to start a trend toward better urban planning for cities across the country.

Cities are the economic engines of regions and are natural concentration points for population, consumption, resource use and waste generation. For these reasons, we need to plan them better. For the Philippines, about 60 percent of our population already live in urbanized areas (e.g., cities or municipalities). Because we are a nation of islands, it makes sense to develop these engines of growth—the cities—so that we can spread growth opportunities and development and make these more inclusive. As it is, about two-thirds of the country’s economic weight rests on Metro Manila and the regions immediately north and south of it (e.g., Central Luzon and Southern Luzon).


You cannot build a great city overnight. But we do need to get started. In March 2014, we invited mayors from 20 cities to participate in the competition. To kick off the process, they were all asked to join the Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative conference organized in Manila by the Urban Land Institute and Asia Society. From that point, we worked on communicating the guidelines and purposes of the competition and organizing a team of architects and planners who would work as mentors. These mentors were supplied by Assure.

To prepare each city for the competition, they were briefed about Urban Land Institute’s basic principles of urban design, particularly for coastal cities. They were also briefed on WWF’s principles for sustainable design.


The key points focused on were environmental footprints and disaster-resilience and safety.

By the beginning of July, we deployed the architect-mentors in teams of two to work with three or four cities. They made site visits, ran workshops, and helped coach teams of local planners, architects and other city officials as well as the private sector from the cities and universities. The conversation was continued throughout the planning and design process via Skype and e-mail.

This October, we screened the entries of the 15 cities which remained in the competition and narrowed the field down to seven finalists—four in the Government Center/Disaster Preparedness category and three in the Apec Venue category. Apec was made a separate category since the Philippines will chair and host Apec in 2015.

The 15 cities were Angeles, Bacolod, Cebu, Iloilo, Legazpi, Baybay (Leyte), Cagayan de Oro, Marikina, Olongapo, Ormoc, San Fernando (La Union), Tacloban, Valenzuela, and Zamboanga.

The resulting designs far exceeded our expectations. They were thoughtful, sophisticated, addressed specific needs, and aesthetic. For the most part, they looked doable. This was an important consideration for us since we stressed that plans had to move well beyond the design stage; we encouraged implementation. Thus, a financial plan became part of the criteria for this competition.

The competition enabled us to see trends in the urban planning mentality and framework of our mayors. The first trend was the strong preference for energy efficiency, solar power, and rainwater catchment. Buildings and facilities were designed to optimize natural light and ventilation. Many used rainwater harvesting and storage techniques and augmented their regular power with solar panels. Ecological balance was clearly on the planners’ minds.

The second trend was the user-friendliness of buildings and spaces. Greater emphasis was placed on pedestrian-friendliness and bike lanes as well as more open spaces in cities. The open spaces were set aside as parks but also served as evacuation sites for such events as earthquakes, which require open ground. Public buildings such as schools, disaster-response centers, and other government buildings were designed to be more accessible. In the event of disasters and emergencies, they had more back-up power and water as well as communications capabilities. They also took into account better ingress and egress of people and materials to prevent clogging up pathways.


The third trend was the greater attention to disaster-resiliency. Cities are relying more on geohazard maps and flood maps to determine where to site critically-needed buildings and facilities. Buildings are not only designed and built better, they are actually going to be located in the least-vulnerable areas. The most critical disaster-response buildings are being designed to be the last left standing in the event of supertyphoons and earthquakes.

The fourth trend we see is that mayors are beginning to take a deeper look at land-use planning to see if it is as effective and efficient as it can be. Aside from looking at geohazard data and other risks, they are also looking at how their cities can be planned to maximize values and accessibility for its own residents as well as their visitors and tourists. They are also looking at ways of making use of their heritage, history and culture to enhance their cities, and also exploring the reuse or repurposing of heritage structures.

Congratulations to all our finalists—Cagayan de Oro, Roxas City, Valenzuela, Zamboanga, Cebu, Iloilo, and Legazpi. And a special congratulations to Cagayan de Oro for winning in the Government Center/Disaster Preparedness category and to Iloilo for winning in the Apec Venue category. May their tribe increase.

Guillermo M. Luz ([email protected]) is the cochair of the National Competitiveness Council. More information is available at

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TAGS: Business Matters, Guillermo M. Luz, Liveable Cities Design Challenge, opinion, property, real estate, Urban Planning
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