Here’s another article published, which is a short recap of my learnings from YSEALI Urban Planning and Smart Growth Workshop – Singapore. Hoping that sharing this gets to inspire our city planners and local governments to move towards knowledge economies and innovation-driven localities, which really do help in smart growth.
Philippine planning future is looking into the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Whenever I read the news, legislators talk about housing backlog. And for good reason. But housing is just one component; urbanization deals with so much more. What is the understanding of our policy-makers on the scope of urban planning? Churning out houses, plan compliance, and a ticklist of tables and maps are not solutions. To what extent do we truly understand the damage that housing without consultation and integration to transport and socio-economic development can bring? When will public space, nature, and citizen rights be the forefront of our planning policies?
We have brilliant minds in the profession, from my professors in the School of Urban and Regional Planning to my friends and classmates who have been travelling and studying around the world to gain more knowledge and better understanding of urbanization. But we are not yet a mature profession. In the Philippines, we have 2,433 licensed environmental planners to date. This is not enough to fulfil the multifarious tasks that burden our local planning offices. This is not enough to bring multi-disciplinary expertise to each local government. And we’re not yet even talking about provincial, regional, and national planning agencies.
Perhaps we should start listening to urban planners a little bit more than politicians. Perhaps, we, urban planners should speak out more, educate more, and do more, and at the same time, mind our ethics in accepting projects and collaborating with developers. While I encourage the growth of the industry in our country, those wanting to take the licensure exam should also be mindful of the massive responsibility that comes with the profession. The same way we trust architects with design, and the same way we trust engineers with structural integrity, is the same way we should trust urban planners with how a city grows, and how human settlements emerge.
In the Urban Redevelopment Authority, master planners of various disciplines—geography, social sciences, engineering, architecture, economics—come together to collaborate for planning. This exhibit shows the fruits of their work.
You, me, and the future of our cities
I asked my Singaporean groupmate how a developing country could improve. How a young planner could make a difference. Her answer was simple: Start small. It doesn’t have to be an entire, flashy masterplan that your city would never have the means to finance. It can start by conversing with neighbors you’ve lived with in the same small area, but never got acquainted with. During your jogging time. Or dog walk time. It can start by you visiting the park in the community, and observing if it has people doing activities in it, or if it looks like it came out of a horror movie (Our subdivision has one). You can start by telling your parents not to park on the sidewalk. Or by not stopping the car on top of pedestrian lanes.
We learned from the humbly great Jack Sim: You don’t have to spend, you just have to utilize what others have, and put it to effect. Create that ripple, share the advocacy, and let’s help each other to improve urban planning in the Philippines.
Someone said, “When you love your city, you can start to imagine the best for it.” I love the Philippines, and I love Metropolitan Manila because it is my home, no matter how painstaking it is to embrace its state of urbanization today. I imagine it to be clean, to have avenues lined with blossoming trees, no smoke, and with people living at ease, proud of their own cities.
Here’s to sharing that vision, and making it happen in our lifetime.
Here are two awesome YSEALI TV episodes from our regional workshop:
No wonder. We complain about traffic but we induce it.
“The road is our right.” Yes, and here in the Philippines, we are the number one violators of our own rights.
For six days, I was released from the bondage of daily three-hour traffic standstills. This was the biggest relief from Metro Manila’s urban jungle. Even if my Filipino legs had to endure the twenty thousand or more steps of walkable Singapore.
While transport planning could provide a litany of issues on our daily plight, let me highlight these immediate few:
“We want to change the relationship between you and public transport.” While Singaporeans love the jeepney, and while this vehicle is culturally iconic for our capital city, many of us point to our drivers’ discipline and the terrible smoke-belching that comes with its trips. Moving ahead the crowded street, our option would be the unruly bus, or if we have the blessing of patience and immunity to being squeezed like sardines, then there’s the MRT or the LRT. A few bucks more could give us the taxi, but we complain there are sanitation and, well, respect issues.
This piece is not meant to compare the Philippines with Singapore. Though I want to. Though I can’t help but to. Because what is real to them is theoretical to us, or probably not even in our imagination. The objective of YSEALI was to learn best urban planning practices from the Lion City of Asia, and to get to work with other young leaders across the ASEAN, get a feel of what we share, or how we are unique. If only I could bring the entire Filipino population to see, feel, and know what urban planning is really like, once implemented. If only I could channel every moment on learning the perspectives from Chiang Mai, Ha Noi, Vientiane, Jakarta, and so many other cities represented to bring back home the knowledge and empowerment. If only I could convince you that planning is not merely consultancy work for another document gathering dust on a mayor’s bookshelf, or for the extra money in the pockets of our dearly elected councilors. This piece is here because in sharing my experience, I hope that there will be better awareness, more voices, and conscious efforts to improve our urban planning.