Thursday 19 October 2017

How to build a better Marawi City?

A FEW days ago, I was in Marawi with two of my fellow architects and planners, Lito de Jesus and Mikey Ramos. We were heartbroken over what we saw as the military took us around ground zero. Marawi is a progressive and thriving city with mid-rise buildings, schools, hospitals, business and grand mosques and masjids. Almost everything beyond the bridge, were burned down and destroyed. We were holding back tears as we were told of the significant events. Truly, no one wins in war.

But I believe despite these challenges the city of Marawi will rise from the ashes and could potentially become a model Islamic city like Dubai. It should safe, sustainable smart, walkable, bikeable, inclusive, international, inter-faith, Islamic. Marawi can become the city of peace. It will preserve, show and remind us and the rest of the world what terrorism could do. Terrorism is the selfish act of a few who do not truly care for the community. It has no place in society, especially for a society which is trying to move towards peace. Achieving peace does not mean zero conflict and arguments, but it is committing to reasonable discourse and improvement.

Some months ago, while the siege was still going on, I discussed some recommendations with several cabinet secretaries, one of them the defense secretary. While everyone is already talking about rebuilding Marawi, I noticed some essential principles of architecture, planning, and development that were missing from the conversation. *

Marawi City (photo credit GMA network)
First, everyone was talking about building back Marawi. It should be building back Marawi “better.” After the bombing of 9/11, I went back to study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design to learn about the importance of security by design. I learned that building high walls do not effectively deter crime; as a matter of fact, it encourages crime. If someone throws a grenade over the wall, no witnesses. If someone puts up a drug den, no witnesses. If an armory and tunnels are being being built, like the case of Marawi, no witnesses. Criminals are not afraid of walls; they are afraid of windows and open spaces because of the possibility of a potential witness. As we were going around ground zero, my colleagues and I noticed how high the walls of the houses were, especially for some of the homes of the terrorists that we passed. Sniper positions of the enemy were also difficult to suppress because of low urban visibility caused by bad architecture and city planning practices.

Two, the locals should be involved in the planning and development. Those who can immediately help Marawi are the local architecture and engineering students, as well as those who are in other fields or disciplines. It is for the children that we are trying to build a better society and it is with them that we should rebuild the city better. The local citizens should be involved every step of the way and there should be a balance of socially acceptable recommendations and world standard recommendations.  *

Three, limited rehabilitation of the destroyed parts of the city. Maintain ground zero and build new and expansion cities around it. The schools, hospitals, and places of worships and other institutions should be rebuilt. But a portion of the ruins should be preserved as a reminder of what terrorism can do. It can be designed like Hiroshima and Nagasaki wherein thousands of tourists flock to the site be reminded of the devastating effect of nuclear war. When I was there a few months ago for my birthday, I saw how the tourists felt engaged with the memorial.

Four, Marawi should not be car-oriented and should strictly impose the building code and aim at higher international standards. When we were going around ground zero, we noticed how small the streets were; before the war the city was already experiencing traffic congestion. We also noticed that some of the houses and establishments were encroaching on the streets and in some areas, the sidewalks had disappeared. There were no proper drainage and sewerage systems in place. Wire and overhead utilities could also be placed underground.

Five, update the comprehensive land use and zoning ordinance of the province, as well as the comprehensive development plan. It is through these plans that world-class architecture and planning principles will be institutionalized by drafting local ordinances. It will also serve as the guide and unifier of the vision of the people of the city. Public consultations and participation should be practiced during the re-planning of the city. *

Six, develop and update the development plan of the entire province of Lanao del Sur, most especially the cities and municipalities around Lanao Lake, the second largest in the country. The key to sustainable and smarter development is aligning the land use, zoning, and development plans of the adjacent cities and municipalities. Lanao Lake is as beautiful as, and could be more beautiful through environmental enhancement than, Lake Geneva.

Seven, assure people that they will retain the titles to their property regardless of what the zoning ordinances will be. One of the biggest challenges and lessons learned from Yolanda is the difficulty of land management.

Working for Dubai made me realize that religion is not a hindrance in developing cities and nations. When culturally and spiritually diverse countries assimilate into one society, there is economic vibrancy, proliferation of artists, and more appreciation for identity, and respect. We can take inspiration from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, and European countries.

After visiting and observing more than 2,000 cities in 74 countries, and being able to work and help 39 countries, I have observed there are only five ingredients of success: strong political will, visionary leadership, good planning, good design, and good governance. With these key ingredients, I believe that there will always be hope to build back better, safer, smarter, and more sustainable cities and communities in the Philippines, especially in Marawi and Lanao.   *

The article was written by Architect Felino A. Palafox, Jr., of the Manila Times titled Rebulding Marawi” which was published October 19, 2017.

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