On 2021, the Philippines will celebrate two monumental events: First, the country’s 500 year anniversary since the arrival of Magellan on March 16, 1521. Second, the introduction of Christianity by Spanish missionaries, and the onset of the Philippine Renaissance, brought by the growing young population, good governance, environmental sustainability, and economic stability that the country last enjoyed after World War II. We can bring the Philippines from the 20th century well into the 21st century.
To quote from the Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: But he that keeps the Law, happy is he.” We Filipinos possess all the ingredients of success in the world, but we have yet to achieve our full development potential as a country by developing a culture of integrity by addressing corruption (towards good governance), criminality (towards peace and order), and climate change (towards environmental sustainability). A socio-political, economic, urban/regional, cultural, spiritual. and environmental renewal is now imperative. If we want to improve and uphold the quality of life in the Philippines, we who love our country should act as the pace-setters in the Philippines and make our country globally competitive.
As my professors at Harvard Graduate School of Design used to tell us, the 21st century will be a RE-century: Re-imagine, re-plan, re-design, re-use, reduce, recycle, redevelop towards an urban renaissance. We should be guided by the triple bottom-line approach to development: People First (Social Equity), Planet Earth (Environment), and then Profit (Economy). Now is the time to revitalize if the country is to undergo a reinvigoration and redevelop our country. The world is rapidly changing, and for the Philippines, things are looking up. Asian countries are now moving from global producers to global consumers as well. The Philippines is a country with unfulfilled high development potentials. The diversity that is the Philippines is a positive notion. It is the Brand of Asia, and it is in this diversity that we shall find unity. For leaders to succeed, they must marshal the resources in human intelligence and energy with principle in spirituality, ethics, and strength. We can all be empowered well into the 21st century.
With an optimistic outlook of a steady surging economy as a result of improved governance and political stability, the Philippines now has the chance to re-establish its once historic Asian seaport.
It has been predicted by leading economists that the Philippines, by 2021, is set to become the 21st largest economy in the Philippines. We already know the strengths of the Philippines as a nation, its history, and evolution of urbanization and planning. But what about its development visions by 2021?
While practicing our professions of architecture and urban planning, we want to bring our country to a first-world position by year 2021. We are talking here of sustainable developments and their positive effects on the environment, and how each project should enhance the quality of life in terms of comfort and neighborliness, income generation, and socio-economic and cultural activities in the local, regional, national, and international scenarios. Every project must elevate the international stature of Filipino professionals, be economically and financially viable, and enhance the environment for future generations.
We can do it. We can make our Philippines a great nation. The Philippines is number one in marine biodiversity, in seafarers and sailors, call centers, and maybe musicians. We are number two in Business Processing Outsourcing. We have the third largest coastline. Some countries go to war to claim more waterfront, or like Dubai, reclaimed the palm islands to increase their coastlines. We are fourth in the world in gold and shipbuilding, and fifth in all other mineral resources. We are number twelve in human resources, and the Filipino expatriates are the preferred employees elsewhere in the world. We are number one in Asia, second to Japan, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Asian countries voted Manila as having the highest development potential as a financial center for the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank.
For 300 years, the Philippines was the Asia-Pacific hub of Spanish Europe, 100 years of the Americans, four years of the Japanese, and two years of the British. The Philippines is 400 times the size of Singapore, 350 times the size of Hong Kong, eight times the size of Taiwan, and three times larger than South Korea—all very successful and globally competitive countries.
It’s about time that the Philippines’ image be metamorphosed from dusky squatters, archaic natives, and rice terraces, to an actively growing nation characterized by vertical and horizontal development.
Back in time for the future
Periodically, a country needs to take a step back, look beyond its immediate needs, and think about its long term future. We need to understand, as a country and community, the qualities that define a livable city and make sure that we develop a vision plan, a master plan that supports and enhances those qualities. But the real key to achieving greatness is just that—planning great things as future generations judge the plan by how well these plans were conceptualized and what is best for the Philippines tomorrow. We should step up and speed up from vision to concept, commitment, completion, and implementation. As the joint foreign chambers put up “ARANGKADA” (double time), let work faster to be globally competitive.
When I graduated, I constantly asked myself, or every year thereafter—where am I? Where do I want to go? How do I get there? Perhaps this quest to seek one’s own identity and sense of being is rooted in our lack of self-confidence on how great our nation could be.
Throughout human history, cities have made countries rich. Cities have provided the world’s great ideas and economic innovations. Indeed, the word cities both spring from the common root of civitas, a Latin word that reflected both citizenship and human settlements in ancient Rome. Cities are great magnets for the world’s best thinkers and innovators, and the proximity of roadways, rails, ports, and airports in urban areas reduce time, travel, and energy costs. Moreover, cities satisfy the universal need for face-to-face contact to foster new products, processes, and intellectual capital. The recipe of most successful cities, I have learned, is not just establishing good leadership, but must also have a long-term economic strategy, an immense institutional capacity, well-financed infrastructure, high-quality education, and a constant pursuit towards design excellence.
Renowned architect and planner Daniel Burnham (who planned Manila in 1905, then Baguio and Chicago in 1909), once commented that Manila was on the point of rapid growth, yet still small in area, possessing the bay of Naples, the winding river of Paris, and the canals of Venice, Manila has before it an opportunity unique in history of modern times, the opportunity to create a unified city equal to the greatest of the Western world, with unparalleled and priceless addition of a tropical setting.” It is unfortunate, however, that the Philippines copied cities like Hollywood and Los Angeles that are car-oriented cities. Had the Philippines developed the best practices in the world such as the cities of London, Paris, Venice, New York, Boston, and San Francisco, Manila would fit the title “City Beautiful of the Orient”, or as Burnham put it, “the Pearl of the Orient.”
However, the Laws of the Indies segregated people of various income classes—Intramuros or inside the walls for the ilustrados and principalia and Extramuros, outside the walls for the indios, sanglays, and peasants. After we became an independent republic, we disregarded the “City Beautiful” urban planning principle of Daniel Burnham, and the leaders of the government and industry copied erroneously the car-oriented Los Angeles of the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, places to live, work, shop, and dine and resulted to the long commutes of people or employees from their place of residence to their workplaces. Along with historic developments in Manila comes the rapid population growth significantly so because of the continuing influx of migrants from other provinces. Our capital, Manila, is a throbbing hub of commerce, tourism, and finance, bedecked with contemporary and architectural landmarks from the Spanish and American era. The empty lots and spaces in Manila have been filled out by informal settlers, who have moved to Manila in the hopes of finding a better living and future for their families. Among the major problems the city faced were flood problems and informal settlements. These problems have gotten worse at the turn of the century, posing great challenge to city officials and residents.
Metro Manila can be an urban laboratory for the mistakes made and lessons to be learned in urban planning and real estate development. Its Asian, European, and American heritage in a developing country setting makes it uniquely different. Some of the best practices elsewhere in the world can be appropriately applied to address the country’s urban issues and challenges and to make metropolitan Manila more livable and globally competitive.
Trailblazers shaping future cities
When I wrote an article on how the urban development should be like in the 21st Century, I listed down some of the questions that I wanted architects and planners should try to answer, among them, “What will our cities be like? What are the dominant forces shaping the city of tomorrow? What are the implications of the built environment? What is the impact of our outdated and obsolete practices in planning, zoning, deed restrictions, building codes? What measures will be taken to address the ‘uglification’ of our cities – air, water, garbage, visual pollution and traffic congestion? What will be the prevailing architectural styles? Architecture with a strong sense of place, or architecture of ‘everywhere, nowhere, anywhere or elsewhere?’ What best practices elsewhere in the world can we take lessons from?”
The vision plan 2021 puts forward a strategy which takes advantage of the locational advantage nationally and globally. Part of the plan is the development of, among others, urban development corridors and clustering of major cities to urban growth centers as counter magnets to Metro Manila. This will spur new investments nationwide in the regions and redevelopment opportunities in the other cities creating jobs and economic opportunities especially for the urban poor in the provinces. A Manila Megalopolis 2020 vision that I put forward in my Harvard term paper back in 2003 showed how the Philippines can create ‘pockets of efficiencies’ and strong regional economic activity by connecting major transportation nodes so that the Metro Manila congestion can decrease rural immigration to the already congested Metro Manila.
Philippines at 500
Hopefully, the country, before its 500th anniversary, will achieve its aims to enhance the economic opportunity and provide a strong social support structure for people throughout the country. Opportunity means not only good jobs at every skill level, but also a good place to raise a family, participate in community affairs, and enjoy recreational and educational opportunities. Therefore, as a nation we must work twice as hard to achieve our development goals. We must strive to reach the global benchmarks to be worthy of the respect we must have for ourselves as well as from other countries.
We can all help together in bringing the Philippines from the 20th century into the 21st century to be number 21 in the world’s top economies by 2021, when our country celebrates its 500 years. For a renaissance to happen, all of us, Filipinos and residents of the Philippines should be open to new ideas that are creative, innovative and artistic, progressive and effective, short-term and opportunistic as well as long-term and visionary that must follow this new age of constant change.
Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. (FUAP, PIEP, APEC Architect, Harvard GSD and Intl. Associate AIA, APA, CTBUH) is the Principal Architect-Urban Planner, Managing Partner and Founder of Palafox Associates, which he founded in 1989. He served as former President of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) in 2011, the first Architect to do so. He is also the president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP) for 2013 and 2014.