Thursday, March 10, 2011

A talk with urban planner Archt. Palafox Jr.

A talk with urban planner Archt. Palafox Jr. 
By Valeriano Avila
March 10, 2011

We attended the 23rd Visayas Annual Membership meeting of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) at the Casino Español yesterday noon. Their keynote speaker was the country’s number one urban planner, super Architect Felino Palafox Jr. whom I interviewed for our talkshowStraight from the Sky which will be aired this Monday Mar.14.

PBSP was founded in 1970 and opened its Visayas Regional Office back in 1989 when they launched the Cebu Hillyland Development Program. Since then, PBSP has made a lot of progress in helping farmers and the urban poor, especially the disadvantaged sector achieve a sustainable growth and development. They are helping the poor communities from Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo and Western Samar but alas, we cannot put in one column all their achievements. All I can say is PBSP has made an impact in the communities that need a helping hand the most. So kudos to Mr. Jose Antonio “Tonio” Aboitiz for steering the PBSP in the right direction, which fits their motto ”Business United: Lives Uplifted."

That PBSP got Archt. Jun Palafox as their keynote speaker allowed me to interact with him on many issues and concerns that are relevant to Cebu. It’s not everyday that we meet a man who is not only a visionary or a dreamer, but a man who can turn his dreams into reality. Unfortunately, it is the politicians whom we elect into office that we rely on to make our dreams of a beautiful and livable community come true. But they totally fail in that.

I have always maintained that the reason why our shopping malls are so full is due to the fact that all our shopping malls are well-designed and often copied from great designs in western countries. Hence in a way, thanks to our serious lack of public parks and spaces, people go to the shopping mall to relax and enjoy the cool air-conditioning and escape from our present realities, especially for those who live in blighted or squatter areas.

I then asked Archt. Palafox, whether Metro Cebu still had a chance to redevelop itself into a more livable and safe metropolis. Archt. Palafox was optimistic that we can still turn things around for Cebu. But he pointed out clearly that what we need is to first re-educate our politicians to embrace a Well-Master Planned Society. The problem with our politicians is, they listen a lot, talk a lot, but do very little because they have perfected the art of making excuses for all the lapses that they have committed. Hence we are behind in our economic growth and development.

Actually, despite the fact that during the Martial Law years when Cebu was supposed to have been neglected because we were considered an “Opposition country”, I remember that then Governor Eduardo “EddieGul” Gullas, with the help of urban planners, came up with the Metro Cebu Land Use and Transport System (MCLUTS), which became the basis for the Central Visayas Regional Projects (CVRP) which evolved into the Metro Cebu Development Projects (MCDP) I, II and III. This eventually, under then Mayor Tomas Osmeña, widened the narrow streets of Metro Cebu, from B. Rodriguez, V. Rama all the way to the Banilad Road and A.S. Fortuna. It also provided for our Sydney Coordinated Automated Traffic System (SCATS) and for the construction of the second or the Fernan Bridge.

Just when we thought that we were moving faster than Metro Manila, after Mayor Osmeña finished MCDP III, MCDP was disbanded. Today, there is no single agency that is doing any more planning for Metro Cebu. In short, we sat down on our laurels and stopped moving forward. I say that we should have switched on our afterburners and pushed harder for progress.

This is why today, despite the economic growth of Metro Cebu, traffic has become just like Manila’s traffic snarls, all because no one is doing any urban planning. Worse, thanks to the squabble between Mayor Osmeña and Gov. Gwen Garcia, the Ciudad Project wasn’t approved, which would have helped the City of Cebu rid itself of the blighted areas across TESDA, where traffic today is at its worse.

Archt. Palafox wants to redesign Cebu and improve our road network, drainage and sewage through proper planning. He pointed out that this means planning for a community where people live near their places of work, hence they won’t need to ride to work. In short, he wanted Cebu to be a “walkable” city where pedestrians are given top priority, followed by public transport and then cars.

As what former Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa told me when I interviewed him on my TV show, “There should be more roads for those who have less in life.” I fully concur with this idea. But how do we implement it? Do we have the political will to implement even a bicycle lane for our major thoroughfares? I doubt it simply because no one is doing any urban planning for Metro Cebu. So let’s revive MCLUTS and restart our development again.