Reimagining the Filipino City

Every year, planners from more than 30 countries around the world celebrate World Town Planning Day on November 8. The international community of professionals – that work on the built and natural environment – exchange ideas and best practices on how to make our cities more livable.

Our own organization of planners, the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners, meet annually near this date. PIEP has members that include urban and regional planners, local government and national agencies, architects, engineers, economists, foresters, lawyers, real estate brokers and developers. It is our mandate to promote and ensure the development of national and local planners, and pursue related policies and advocacies on sustainability.

The Philippines has 81 provinces and 1,634 towns and cities, with each of them requiring a planning and development officer to lead land use planning and zoning in their local government. However, we only currently have 1,130 licensed environmental planners. The leadership of PIEP has been promoting the profession with the hope that more people – particularly the youth and professionals in allied fields – will choose a career in planning. 

This year, our meeting theme of “Reimagining the Filipino City” will allow the participants to reflect on who we are as Filipinos and recognize that our natural and urban environment are inherent to our identity as a people. It will also allow us to come up with alternative urban futures through tried-and-tested solutions to be shared by the expert resources, and consider how to create better cities through foresight, imagination, technologies and innovation. 

The first of five sessions, “The Filipino Identity,” aims to examine the foundations that influence how Filipinos shape cities, and how we can build on – or challenge – them in the pursuit of livable communities. The conversation will be led by DENR Secretary Ramon Paje and Dr. Fernando Zialcita of UNESCO, and PIEP president Lara Togonon de Castro.

Our environments say a lot about who we are as a people. The Tagalog, for example, anecdotally derived its name from the word taga-ilog, in reference to the Ilog Pasig. In other words, the Tagalog are the people of the Pasig River. On the other hand, Cebu may have gotten its name from the word sibu, which means the place for trading. One can also determine when cities were established through its urban forms and patterns. The oldest towns have settlements surrounding waterways and seas, while newer cities tend to be lined along roads and highways. 

Photo courtesy of Tooykrub /
In the session entitled “Redefining Sustainable Development for Filipino Cities,” the panel will share fresh approaches to sustainable development, recognizing global frameworks while advancing a distinct Filipino perspective to urban planning and development. The Philippines has committed to the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals. Targets that we will try to achieve with other countries by 2030 include ending all forms of poverty and hunger, and making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Environmental planners in the panel will discuss the government’s strategy in addressing informal settlements, as well as how the nation is performing in its objective of inclusive development.  

I will be moderating the “Mobility and the City” session. Transportation should be planned together with land use; however, road projects and traffic regulations have been seemingly implemented without reference to development plans of the city in relation to the wider region.

The speakers are Dr. Primitivo Cal of the University of the Philippines, Robie Siy of the Department of Transportation and Communication and Julia Nebrija, one of the most visible advocates of biking as a mode of transport. Dr. Cal will present previous and present initiatives in trying to solve our traffic. It will be interesting to hear how the government leaders intend to address congestion, in relation to the increasing number of city dwellers and cars, sprawl, and increasing property values in city centers. Robie Siy, senior consultant for the DOTC, will present the prospects of a Bus Rapid Transit in Manila. 

Autodesk’s Mr. Sunil M K, together with a panel of software experts, will discuss in the session on “Planning Tools for the Future: Data Democracy and Urban Planning” how to imagine, design and create a better world through technology. Autodesk has been collaborating with places around the world in Mapping for Smart Cities. He will be joined by experts from XP Solutions and Open Data Philippines. 

The day’s events will be capped by the session on “Alternative Urban Futures,” which presents an array of alternative futures for the Filipino City. It is most fitting that students from Grades 10-11 of Singapore School of Manila will be setting the tone of the discussion. They won this year’s Young Mayor’s Competition, and bested several schools from around Asia with their proposals for the City of Manila. 

    Arnel Casanova will share BCDA’s (Bases and Conversion Development Authority) plans for Clark Green City, and how they are seeing the new city as an alternative to congested Metro Manila. Environmental Planner Mark de Castro will talk about agricultural urbanism, particularly in Enchanted Farm in Bulacan. The community is home to social entrepreneurs and local farmers, and was established by Gawad Kalinga as an alternative to poverty for many. Joel Luna, Ayala Land’s Head of Innovation and Design Group, will talk about the new cities that the country’s oldest corporation has been building all over the Philippines. 

The PIEP national convention will be held on November 6, Friday at AIM Conference Center in Makati City at 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Everyone who has an interest in recreating our cities is invited to join the conversation. To register or inquire, please contact Arlene Ty or Beth Luna at [email protected] (02)920-9705 and (0917)831-6694. 

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Topics: filipino city
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