Student Postcard: Seeking Resiliency in the Pacific Rim

Greg Pierce, a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Planning, was selected as the sole UCLA representative to attend the Second Annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative Forum in Manila this month. Upon his return to the states, he shared this postcard of his experience in the city, which is still recovering from a major typhoon that struck in 2013.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative (PCSI) Forum in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. I was selected as the graduate student representative from UCLA to participate in the conference. The Urban Land Institute and the Asia Society jointly sponsored the forum, which brought together a diverse group of academics (including Professor Robert Spich from the UCLA Anderson School), officials from the Philippine government, real estate developers and other development consultants. Participants traveled from all across Asia and North America to Manila.

The theme of this year’s forum was ‘Creating Livable and Resilient Cities.’ This theme was particularly appropriate in the context of Manila, which experiences serious flooding several times a year, especially in lower-income areas. Moreover, the country as a whole is still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan. The typhoon struck in November 2013, devastating cities and towns throughout the islands of Leyte and ranking as the deadliest typhoon in the country’s history. Outsized, adverse weather events in the Philippines and throughout the Pacific Rim are only expected to increase in light of climate change.

The day before the forum began, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Santiago in Old Manila. Much of this area of the city was built in the 16th century by the Spanish. This area is rich in colonial and post-colonial history and featured a range of diverse architecture, including Manila’s city hall building. While in this part of town, I was also able to visit some neighborhoods nearby that provided a taste of the typical day-to-day experience of the city’s residents.

The first day of the forum consisted of ‘mobile workshops’ to different areas of the city to see urban resiliency in action. The mobile workshop I attended served as quite a contrast from Old Manila. I visited both Makati, the central business district and financial hub of the city, and Bonifacio Global City, a relatively new master planned development. Both areas have taken urban resiliency to heart by implementing advanced storm water management techniques and constructing earthquake-resistant buildings with the most flexible materials. However, Makati and Bonifacio are largely designed for wealthy Filipinos and foreigners, and do not facilitate the inclusion of the city’s lower and middle income residents. Another poignant portion of the tour included a visit to the memorial cemetery for the Americans and Filipinos who perished in World War II.

An explanation of the storm water management system in Bonifacio Global City

The World War II memorial cemetery with Bonifacio Global City in background

The subsequent days of the conference were held at the eclectic Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City. The forum featured keynote addresses by Sir Robert Parker — the mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand when the major 2011 earthquake struck the city — and Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the director of disaster relief in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami devastated Aceh province. These experts provided both practical advice for urban resiliency in future disasters as well as a welcome people-oriented approach to handling such crises. I was also able to attend a number of lively panel discussions and small-group breakouts on more specific topics in urban resiliency, such as public private partnerships and sustainable urban design. The conference also included numerous opportunities for knowledge-sharing and networking.

In addition to taking in knowledge, I contributed to the range of policies which can enhance urban resiliency. Along with other graduate students, I presented a poster at the forum. My proposal, ‘Performance-Based Pricing for City Parking in the Pacific Rim,’ outlined how large cities, both in the United States as well as in Asia and Latin America, can implement market-based pricing for their public on-street parking supply. Implementing dynamic pricing addresses past urban planning urban mistakes, improves livability by reducing congestion and pollution, and increases cities’ financial resiliency. Enhanced revenue from parking can also be diverted to urban residents without cars, the vast majority of those living in Asia and Latin America.

Overall, visiting Manila and attending the forum was a great experience but also served as a reminder of ongoing challenges for urban resiliency in countries such as the Philippines. While we know much about best practices and can see how well-off residents can ensure resilience in light of climate change and disasters, mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and everyday livability for the average resident of a low or middle income city remains a challenge.