Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Political Dynasties

Family dynasties had always been in the Philippine political landscape, taking its roots from the aristocratic families during the Spanish and American period.

I heard from a very credible source that by 2040, 70 percent of the Philippines' local government units (LGUs) could by dynastic in the political sense. Whoa. The same source quoted an AIM study citing that today, the LGUs are already close to 50 percent dynastically governed. History will tell us that political dynasties  are directly proportional to the poverty situation.

What happened to Senate Bill 2649, the Anti-Dynasty Bill filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago? It was supposed to give flesh and teeth to the principle enshrined in our  1987 Constitution of the Philippines, which states in Article II Section 26, that "The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law."     

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Urban Design Planner as a Key Player in the Urban Development Process

Wooley (1985) indicated that architects are vital players in the  planning arena because they can use  figures,  drawings and other visual aids as a means of thinking through seeing. In  the same manner, the urban design planners are the  ones who can effectively connect the concept of beauty  (aesthet­ic) with usefulness (practicality), and structural integrity (engineering)  with other positive attributes essential to a satisfactory  physical environment e.g.  robustness,  perme­ability,  etc. (responsiveness). These are interlinked  con­cepts,  and the achievement of a good balance of these  con­cepts  is  vital  to the success of  the  urban  development plans.

According to Bentley, et.al.  (1985), structures and  spaces should  offer its users a wide array of choices in order  to maximise  their benefits. The built environment should  pro­vide  its  users  with an  essentially  democratic  setting. Again,  among  all those involved, it is  the  urban  design planner who is the most capable one in ensuring this  aspect given his background discipline.

A  good  urban design planner does not strictly  need  well-honed skills in design analysis. But he/she certainly has to know  what  to look for and what questions  to  ask.  He/she always  must  recognise that  there  are  limits  to his/her  own experience and outlook and  therefore,  working  with  others  and consultations with those  whom  the  urban design  and plans are intended for  will always have  better results  in  terms  of responsiveness.  Working  with  other players too is important. Moreover, they must go out and  be in touch with the reality that is happening outside of their office. What is learned in the four corners of the classroom should  be  supplemented  with hands-on  experience  in  the field. That "experience is the best teacher", is true.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Urban Design as a Continuous Process

  An Environment that cannot be  changed invites its own destruction.  We prefer a world that can be modified progressively against  a  background of valued remains, a world in which in which one  can  leave  a  personal mark alongside the marks of history.

            --Kevin Lynch, “What Time Is This Place?”,  cited  in  Roberta  Brandes
            Gratz’s “The Living City”.

Similar  to what modern urban planners had repeatedly  advo­cated  that  the  practice of  planning should  continually evolve as a process,  Alexander  (1987) pointed out that urban design  should  be likewise.  To such a notion, Jackson (1972) added that:

"the city of tomorrow   is  something  which  is   slowly  and   continuously created. It may contain new ideas  new  thoughts,  but  it  is   not  a  new creation because of the process of continuity and through the regular addition and frequent amendments to an  existing  urban  fabric... The  future  exists  in  the  city of  today,  and   as the circumstances of today move forward inexorably into the city of tomorrow,  society can if  so  wishes  bend, control, direct and lead the city as it now exists towards its horizon”.

Consistent with  the above  is  what Shirvani (1985) emphasized that urban design extends in both time  and space and therefore, the solutions put forward  by urban design planners must not only respond to the needs  of the present but should also be able to foresee the needs  of  the  future,  and,  the solutions developed  to  respond  to issues  in  one place can be used only as a basis  but  will need  to be reconfigured to fit the unique  requirements  of another place.  This, in essence points towards the  concept of sustainability.

The key to sustainable urban design is responsiveness  (with due  reference  to  the concept  of  responsive  environment propagated  by Bentley, et.al., 1985), that is, to draw  designs  not too constrained as to just respond to a  specific need  of a specific individual or a homogeneous group  at  a specific  time but rather should be flexible and generic  as not to be exclusionary and time bounded.

The  exclusion of other groups does not only happen  because walls  were built or gates were installed. Often, the  built form  can exclude people by not being able to  resolve  conflicts between car and pedestrian, by not being  considerate to the needs of the disabled, and by imposing too much order and neatness. A pitfall to an urban design  planner who  had been car-dependent all his life is to design something which will  tend to be pro-car. Moreover, without the prodding  of more  sensitive people (who normally would be  our  everyday citizen and   not  those who are in the saddles of power),  a  physically-able urban design planner can tend to disregard accessibility for those who are physically impaired. Being exclusionary often  is not intentional. It becomes a tendency as  may  be dictated by how far one has gone and how many cases one  has seen. It is like an economic consultant who has not gone  to other countries and experienced the realities of life  there but is prescribing solutions to their problems. That is  why ,an   urban  design expert, to really be  effective  in  his craft,  should go out of his office and look  around,  feel, and  if  necessary, suffer from the common  people's  standpoint. This is what sociologists would term as the  participatory approach to sociological research wherein they go out and be beggars in the streets in order to analyse the situation  of street people in the social fabric. The  importance of  the information a professional planner can gather  while being really there is incomparable and can not be learned in the  classroom.  This bit of knowledge, combined  with  what others  have  discovered on their own can make up a  set  of realistic  objectives which the group can aim to fulfil  as they draw the design and build things from the ground.

It is important to bear in mind that what makes a  structure essential is its usefulness in the public realm. A structure with  maximized accessibility and permeability can  sustain­ably  be useful because of the very fact that it  does  not create  nuisance  to everybody, and it does not  just  serve only  a selected few. It does not hamper  people's  movement but  rather, it can actually aid them. As regards usefulness over time, the concern is not just  to secure  the physical integrity of the structure  (resistance to  earthquake, typhoon-proof, and so on) but also  to  make the design flexible so that it can easily be altered to suit changing  needs.  A  house may need to be  enlarged  as  the family grows, a wall may need to be knocked down, or a  room may  need  to be converted to a home-office.  A  sustainable design  can foresee all these probable needs in  the  future and  can  provide for them in the current format. In  buildings,  the sustainability of usefulness may be provided  for by considering access, building depth, height, hard  (lifts, stairs,  vertical service ducts) and soft areas, and  active and passive areas. Organizing the inside of the building can give  rise  to robustness, it being  the  characteristic  of being  able  to offer many different uses/purposes   to  its users  (Bentley, et. al., 1985).  Again, urban design  planners  can have a very limited view about what would  be  the future  needs of the family occupying a certain  house.  The limitation  can  be  caused by the extent of  what  one  has experienced  with his/her own family, for  instance,  he/she grew  up in a nuclear family and would fail to envision  the needs of an extended family).

To reiterate, because urban issues evolve, the expertise and knowledge of urban design planners should likewise do so. To be  able  to plan and design in a continuum,  they  have  to accept that learning is also a  process and ideas will  have to be kept up-to-date with the changing urban setting.

Factors Contributing to Conversion of Farms and Forest Lands

1. Historical Concept of Ownership and Property Rights

In a report to former President  Ferdinand Marcos regarding the need for a new land policy for the Bagong Lipunan (New Society) in 1974, for Minister Honofre D. Corpuz, in behalf of the Human Settlements Committee, cited the historical concept of land ownership dominating the frame of mind of the people in the Philippines as one of the main issues confronting the land and housing sector. According to H. D. Corpuz, deeply embedded in the minds of the Filipino people is the western notion about private ownership and property rights based on the concept of democracy. The people  believe that with the ownership of a piece of land comes the absolute right to do anything with it  as long as it is done within the physical boundaries of  the property. These absolute rights include the right of the property owners to use the land in any form they want, the right to sell it at any point in time and the right to do nothing with it if they wish so.  The lack of  policy to counter this “democratic” concept  resulted in the rampant  conversion of agricultural and ecologically-fragile lands to urban uses in those years .

As contained in the report, H. D. Corpuz  suggested that there is a need to reorient this historical concept of land ownership. While private ownership and rights should still be honored and highly valued in the Philippines, such rights should be made subordinate to the requirements of public welfare. This suggestion however took 4 years to become the principle behind the  issuance of Letter of Intent (LOI) No. 713 in 1978, which prohibited the indiscriminate conversion of agricultural lands to other uses, and  another 5 years to mutate into a more comprehensive policy, the LOI 1350, which provided for the creation of the National Land Use Committee or NLUC.

Skewed Land Ownership Pattern

The land-ownership pattern in the Philippines is highly skewed. The elite, which largely dominates  Philippine politics, owns and controls most of the lands in the country. These rich families inherited vast tracts of lands from their Spanish forefathers and have capitalised on their real-estate ownership to gain dominance in the society. As estimated by the Census of Agriculture in 1988 or the LISTASAKA I and II (cited in Cornista and Bravo, 1994),  the distribution of land ownership showed that only 0.18 percent of the landowners own 16.36 percent of the total agricultural lands. These are the lands more than 100 hectares in size which often are referred to as “haciendas”. The cumulative figure for farm sizes more than 24 hectares would be 1.45 percent of landowners owning almost 30 percent of the total agricultural area.  On the other hand, about 66.78 percent of the landowners own only 18.50 percent of the total area. These are the lands under the smallest farm size category of 3 hectares and below.

The decision to convert their lands for urban uses comes easy for these large landowners once the economics of rent-producing based valuation of land starts to lean to  their favor. Their livelihood is not reliant on the existence of farming, rather, their landholdings are most often devoted for speculative gains.

The land-ownership situation can be viewed in another way, which is by looking at the labor force involved. Of the say, 10 million labor force in agricultural sector, only 1.5 million are owner-operators and the rest are farm workers with no secured tenurial rights over the land they are tilling (Concepcion, 1992). In most instances, these dislocated farm workers and unemployed people opt to go and till fragile  upland resources (no matter how unsuitable and marginal the soil quality may be for farming) to provide for their basic food needs for survival. In fact, 30 percent of the total Philippine population reside and till the uplands, many of which are in protected, ecologically-sensitive areas (NPFP,  1992).

Again, in the absence of a clear policy to address the above-cited issues, conversion of agricultural lands to urban uses and conversion of fragile uplands to marginal farming uses occurred rampantly.

Biased Macroeconomic Policies

The economic vision for the Philippines 2000 is set forth in the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) for 1993-1998. The Investments Priorities Plan (IPP) was formulated, in turn, to help achieve the objectives of the MTPDP. The IPP aims to: a) produce globally-competitive export products; b) develop domestic-oriented industries that are competitive with imports; c) upgrade infrastructure and other facilities needed to support agro-industrial and regional development; and d) disperse industry outside the National Capital Region (NCR). In the light of the significant overall improvement in the country’s investment climate, the IPP continues to encourage the development of industrial estates.

Consistent with the IPP aims, the government likewise created the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) in 1995 under Republic Act 7916, in order to provide the framework and administrative mechanisms for the creation, operation, administration and coordination of special economic zones which includes export processing zones, industrial estates, and technology parks. The principle behind the creation of PEZA  is:

The government shall actively encourage, promote, induce and accelerate a sound and balanced industrial, economic and social development of the country in order to provide jobs to the people especially those in the rural areas, increase their productivity and their individual and family income, and thereby improve the level and quality of their living conditions through the establishment, among others, of special economic zones or ECOZONES.-Republic Act 7916

The above development principle assumes that the upliftment of the quality of life of the rural populace can be  achieved by the establishment of manufacturing and processing industries, indicating the bias against agriculture and the environment.

After the Philippine government committed itself to  the principles of sustainable development in the United Nations Commission for the Environment and Development (UNCED) Conference in 1987, the  natural and environmental quality problems have been supposedly elevated as a concern in the hierarchy of national goals. However, the  bias against agriculture and natural resources is still present as great emphasis is still assigned to the policy objectives of growth and development, promotion of exports, and others. With this, O’riardan’s (1976, cited in Remigio, 1995) graphical depiction of national policy priorities and objectives of countries still holds true.

Population Pressure

The growth rate of the urban population in the Philippines has, since 1948, been higher than the rural population but the difference in the two growth rates has risen substantially in 1960s. The National Statistics Office (NSO) data showed that from the 1960s to the 1990s, urban population has grown at an average of 4.3 percent while rural population has been decreasing at an average rate of 1.64 percent.

Official data would show that the rural population decreased from 68 percent (25 million) of the total population (36.7 million) in 1970 to 63 percent (30.1 million out of  48.1 million) in 1980. In 1990, it further declined to 51 percent (31.5 million out of 60.5 million).

Based on the 1990 census, Metro Manila reached a population density of 12, 466 persons per square kilometer, 60 times the average density of the country which is 202 persons per square kilometer (NPFP, 1992). This rapid increase in population exerts tremendous pressure on the finite land resources of Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces. Simultaneous with the population boom is the increase in demand for land to be devoted for urban uses and services such as residential, transportation networks, commercial and industrial sites and others. The pressure naturally pushed growth to spillover to the provinces bounding Metro Manila, hence the unwarranted land-use conversions.

Non-viability of Farms

Non-viability of farming operations is not limited to those farms located in unproductive and marginal areas. Even those farms located in prime agricultural soils  can still run into massive losses due to several natural factors such as natural calamities like typhoons wiping out crops, locusts and other infestations, and drought. However, other factors may exacerbate the situation:

Lack of access to government credit facilities. According to Floro (1987),  some small farmers are forced to  borrow money from trader-lenders who attach tie-in conditions to the loan (locally referred to as tampa). The condition requires farmers-borrowers to sell all their marketable products to their lenders at the price stipulated by the lenders. In many cases, this gives the trader-lender an opportunity to underprice the farmer’s output. The traders-lenders then can sell the products to the government marketing agency, the National Grains Authority or NGA at guaranteed floor prices. Anecdotal evidence gathered by the Department of Economics of the University of the Philippines at Los Banos showed that farmers tend to approach the traders or middlemen when selling their produces because these people pay in cash whereas the NGA would pay in cheques, prompting them to wait for a couple weeks for clearance time.

Lack of infrastructure services and facilities. In some instances, the lack of post-harvest facilities such as reliable storage systems can cause losses to farmers, especially those specialising in highly perishable farm goods such as vegetables and fruits.

Changes in  prices of commodities. General prices may increase drastically so that the price of farm products sometimes can not keep pace with the rise of farm inputs and thus there is a net decrease in farm real incomes. Moreover, changes in world prices could  make prices of farm products fall to  alarmingly low levels. The net effects are  low income for the farmers, their subsequent inability to increase their savings and the stagnation of their purchasing power (Concepcion, 1992).

The culture of  poverty. While poverty exists in both urban and rural areas, the problem in the Philippines is predominantly one of rural poverty. According to the World Bank Development Report in 1990, the percentage of the poor living in the rural areas in the Philippines is about 70 percent. Majority of rural poor are farmers tilling small holdings and marginal lands. Small farm holdings (below 3 hectares) account for about 40 percent of all farms in the country  (Quibria, 1993) and because of the limitations imposed by size,  these small farmers tend be operationally inefficient, which finally lead them to the harsh decision of giving up farming.

According to Remigio (1995), the culture of poverty in the Philippines likewise ensured  the inexorable application of short-term survival logic by the poor rural majority who pursued livelihood opportunities that tended to destabilize further many ecologically-sensitive upland areas.

The Impermanence Syndrome. It may not be only the economics of size that lead small farmers to be operationally inefficient. Concepcion (1992) cited that farmers in the peripheries of urban areas likewise experience insecurity similar to that termed as  “impermanence syndrome” (Bunker and Houston, 1992). This phenomenon, which is also recognized in the United States (Nelson, 1990 cited in Bunker and Houston, 1992) tends to cause farmers  not to invest fully on the sustenance of their operations e.g. fertilizers or crop rotation, because they believe that  sooner or later, they would be swallowed by the rapidity of urbanization that is taking place.

All of the above-cited factors contribute to the farming predicament. They have a singular effect on farm operations and that is the weakening of the economic viability and financial standing of the farms, making them very prone to the pressures of urban encroachment.

The Significance of the Rural-Urban Fringe in the Philippines

The rural-urban fringe is that area which extends outward from the newest residential areas into a landscape which is still essentially rural but slowly becoming aligned with urban aspiration. Inasmuch as it is a zone of transition, it is likewise  a zone of conflict. For instance, conflict in land-use can be very well observed as agricultural, residential, and commercial uses compete for land in these areas (Godall, 1972). Other land-uses that may tighten the competition for land at the fringe of metropolitan growth are tourism, recreation, and conservation. Other forms of conflict may be observed in terms of varying lifestyles, livelihood, landscape and services. These conflicts often result in the distortion of the established rural lifestyle and economy by the strong and outward spreading urbanisation. Residential and commercial uses of land usually tend to be more viable and thus these uses are more capable of dictating higher land values.

In the Philippines, specifically those areas immediately surrounding Metro Manila, the above cited conflicts can be observed to be  very intense. As mentioned  earlier on,  rapid urbanisation is occurring at the expense of prime agricultural lands in the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Batangas and Laguna, and likewise at the expense of environmentally-sensitive areas like the mountain ranges of Rizal. According to Concepcion (1992) agriculture in the Philippines has been edged out to marginal lands as a result of urban encroachments. As prime lands are converted to urban uses, farmers moved to the uplands and indulged in slash and burn farming (known as kaingin system). This farming practice, in turn, has resulted in the rapid depletion of forest covers.

Economic Significance

The deep importance of managing the rural-urban fringe must be realised alongside the emergence of environmental ethics. The maintenance of farmlands should be thought of as much more than just saving a piece of land. The objectives of saving farmlands and ecologically-fragile lands encompass the preservation of the quality of  the place, maintaining rural lifestyle, keeping the lid on cost of public services, and so much more. The significance of preserving farms and forests beyond the consideration of farm families are discussed below.

Energy Conservation. Farming prime lands require less energy compared to others because of the natural qualities of the soil. Naturally-rich soil requires less management as it likewise require less farm inputs, i.e. fertilisers. Lands of good quality soil also tend to have greater tolerance for a wide variety of crops. Moreover, the maintenance of prime lands near market centres reduces transport costs.

Control of Public Costs. Farms require lower facility outlays than urban areas. For instance,  those  fringe areas which have now become highly urbanised have been  neglected by the water resources agencies in the Philippines due to the rapid rise in demand for water supply both for household and industrial  uses. (Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Committee on Water Supply, Sewerage and Sanitation Sector Study, 1986). As urban centres expand, the per unit cost of building infrastructure i.e.  water supply, transport, sewerages  likewise expands due to the economics of distance.

Preservation of Economic Base. Farms are the main source of the country’s food supply. Moreover, exportable farm products are dollar earners and therefore support the balance of payments  (BoP). More than 20 percent of the country’s total export earnings come from agricultural and forest products exports.

Moreover, the agricultural sector supports a variety of businesses such as food manufacturing and other retail enterprises by being the source of raw materials. The CALABARZON area produces a wide variety of food products such as coffee beans, coconuts,  and fruits such as rambutan and lanzones. All of these products are processed into sweets and preserves and are exported to other countries including  the United States and Australia.

Likewise, the agricultural sector  creates demand for other businesses such as farm implement dealers, feed stores, and others. The sector also provides various employment opportunities. The sector, at the macroeconomic level, could contribute a significant part in the economy’s total output by up to one-fourth of the real Gross Domestic Product or GDP.

Promotion of Local Self-Sufficiency. Agriculture relies on local resources such as land and local labor, thus it can propagate itself through time in the absence of deliberate interventions. This will relieve the pressure on government resources which are most often very scarce and limited. The government can therefore reallocate resources to provide for other community needs i.e. educational facilities.

Self-sufficiency can also be brought about by developing tourism and recreational facilities that sit well with agriculture and the natural environment. Local income can be boosted by such activities as demands for food and accommodation services rise.

Social Significance

Maintenance of Open Spaces. The open space qualities of farmlands and natural resource areas can provide amenity. That means, people can derive pleasure and  enjoyment from using such open spaces for activities such as sight-seeing,  picnics, bushwalking and many others. Even just the freshness of the air itself can already provide amenity.

Preservation of Local Lifestyle. An enduring rural land resource base  will enable communities to maintain their dominant, rural way of life. Moreover, availability of moderately-priced housing will be maintained.

Promotion of Local Identity. Many rural communities are known  for producing its specialty crops. These production uniqueness enhances local identity and sense of place. Other than the economic value of these specialty crops, ecologically and culturally sound tourism can also be enhanced. Examples of these would be the buko (young coconuts) juice and pie of Los Banos and Calamba, Laguna, and kapeng barako (coffee) of Batangas.

Environmental Significance

Retention of Natural Systems and Processes. In preserving farmlands, the natural balance of the ecosystem can also be maintained. Appropriately managed farmlands can serve as natural buffers protecting river systems and sensitive forest covers from urban activities. Moreover, farming practices like crop rotation can help replenish and maintain soil nutrients. Relatedly, the preservation of forest covers would secure biologically diverse plant and animal life, as well as the hydrological regimes of various watersheds.

Table 4 is a World Bank (WB) summary of general health and productivity consequences of environmental mismanagement, which, can likewise be observed in the Philippine setting.

Prevention of Groundwater Depletion. Farmlands utilise surface water for irrigation as opposed to urban activities using groundwater for water supply. The private sector supplements public water supply through extraction from underneath. The Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Committee on Water Supply, Sewerage and Sanitation or IACWSSS Sector Study (1986) estimated the average private extraction in Metro Manila at 269 million liters  a day and 98 million cubic meters each year. These rates are alarming because in 1981, the groundwater level was already about 200 meters below sea level and with such an extraction rate, the decline is moving at a rate of 4 to 10 meters every year. Many wells have run dry and salinity is seeping to the fresh water tables. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Urban Design as an Important Facet of Physical Planning

Urban design is a part of the overall framework of planning. It seeks to develop the policy framework within which physi­cal  designs can be created for a certain urban area.  Urban design  is  an activity that deals  with  the  relationships between  the  major elements of the urban  fabric.  

Urban  design is a very important facet of planning  because as  planning must exhaustively consider the  economic  social and environmental aspects of development, it likewise has to always  heed the physical aspects. Development  will  always have  a physical dimension because afterall, both the  built and natural environments are physical.

Hedman and Jaszewski (1984) mentioned that:

"there  was a time when architecture take care of the urban  design requirements without the need of an urban design  overview.  There  was a built-in sensibility that ensured a reasonable degree   of  order and  harmony   within  the  built environment.   But that   state  of affairs   has  changed  that  architecture   now often (though not all the  time) contributes to the disorder and   disharmony".

The  above  implies that urban design has  really  become  a significant  discipline as its task includes overseeing  the general consistency and coherence of the built environment.

The  importance  of urban design was further  reiterated  by Smith (1974) who stated  that:

"All  the  right strategic decisions may be  made,  and  the planning theory used may be   impeccable,   but if   the   physical  consequences  do not add up to a satisfactory  and  vigorous (physical)  environment,   good decisions  are  of  no consequence".

In addition to the above, Alexander (1987) also  highlighted the  role of urban design in achieving a sense of  wholeness in urban areas. He described old beautiful towns and  cities as  somehow "organic", and the idea of "organicness" is  not an analogy but a precise vision of a specific quality of  an urban area. According to Alexander (1987):

"Towns and cities can grow as a whole, under its own laws of wholeness... and we can feel this wholeness not only at  the largest  scale but in every detail, in restaurants,  in  the sidewalks,  in  the  houses, shops,   markets, roads,  parks, gardens and walls. Even in the balconies and ornaments".

Alexander  (1987) further noted that this quality no  longer exist in towns and cities built and being built at  present, because  neither  architecture, nor urban design,  nor  city planning take the creation of such a quality of wholeness as part of their task:

"City planning is too preoccupied with  the  implementation of ordinances, architecture is too much pre-occupied with  the   problems  of   individual buildings and urban  design  has  a sense of dilettantism: as if the problem could be solved  on a visual level, as an aesthetic matter".

After  bludgeoning the discipline of urban design with  his criticisms,  Alexander  (1987) changed tone  by  emphasizing that  among all existing disciplines related to urban  planning, urban design is the one which comes closest to accepting the responsibility of creating the city's wholeness.

Alongside the concept of "wholeness"  is what was  described by  Hedman and Jazewski (1984) as "coherence". According  to them:

"While  individual structure may be  attractive and visually appealing in themselves   (thanks  to   the   skills   of architects),  the cumulative effect be otherwise".

In  other  words,  no coherence and  satisfying  pattern  of development  is achieved. There is no synergy as  the  whole does  come out as greater than the summed-up  attractiveness of its parts. In short, no sense of place is attained. Urban design  could make the difference in this aspect because  it is the discipline which has the capability to see things  in a wider perspective.

It is in regard of the above points  that the role of  an urban  design  planner in the process of urban  planning  is deemed genuinely prominent.

The Multi-Function Polis (MFP)

  Urban development experiences of countries around the world in the past few decades had made modern-day planners well aware of the importance of linking physical development with other aspects of equal importance which are, economic, socio-cultural and environmental development. The realization of such significant linkages brought about the birth of new concepts in planning such as the integrated area management (Better Cities program ) and the paradigm of  sustainable development (Khan, 1995). Built-in to these two concepts is the basic idea that a good balance of objectives for physical, economic, socio-cultural and environmental development should carry the economy and society across turbulent times.

The basic  MFP concept  is geared towards the development of an urban area (considering a population ranging from 50,000 to 100,000) which would provide a springboard for science, technology and advanced technology enterprise  (Yencken, 1989). The emphasis on high-tech and high touch industries  would bring the development up-to-date with the  information and communications technologies and likewise with economic trends such as globalization of economies, privatization and deregulation. The jobs created would help alleviate the unemployment statistics.

The MFP is aimed to be a model community. It is to be a city of new character (Yencken, 1989), a place where social opportunities can be maximized and social curtailment can be minimized if not totally avoided. In the process of developing MFP, it is intended that social issues in existing urban and developing countries and special problems of communities that have developed around advanced technology enterprise zones will be well considered.

As regards the environment, the MFP also is aimed to be an environmental model for the future. In the MFP Concept Paper (cited by Yencken, 1989)  it was posed that the development “should demonstrate how a site can be sensibly chosen, and  a community planned and built in harmony with its natural surroundings in accordance with a basic ecological policy; how pollution problems can be eliminated or minimized, and how citizens can be taught a strong environmental ethic”.
The magnet of a model MFP is IT.  It is clear that the magnet should be developed first and therefore, the government has to pump-prime the whole MFP machine by investing money on physically building a place where businesses can commence operations  with all the necessary facilities available, e.g.  offices,  houses,  shopping,  recreational facilities, research facilities, water supply, electricity and communications. Together with the physical infrastructure, the soft infrastructure should likewise be there such as, linkage with the universities, linkage with concerned government institutions and units, linkage with transport operators e.g. the airport management. To reiterate, all these necessary infrastructure should be put in place simultaneously in a very incremental but systematic manner. When investments start to trickle in, then a snowball effect can be expected while incremental developments are continually being pursued. There is no point in making available the housing accommodations if the primary reason for businesses to come over, which is the opportunity to conduct IT-related enterprise, is not there. Similarly, there is no point in investing too much on environmental projects now if investments from businesses do not flow in because that would mean that these environmental projects  will not be sustained without the money pouring in. MFP Administrators should realise that  MFP is no less an economic undertaking.  It is to be an enterprise zone. Businesses would come in to MFP with the end-in-view of  conducting business in a very economic standpoint. They will not come in with the end goal of appreciating environmental achievements only. 

Complementary to strengthening the magnet is widening its sphere of attraction. Development of transport links to make MFP accessible nationally and internationally is a way to do so. In this regard, again, the airport extension and upgrade project should be claimed and be advertised overseas as a part of a larger program for MFP. The development of transport links is very crucial. 

In the context of urban design, MFP should be flexible and robust. Since technology can change rapidly, technological devices for buildings and houses  should be add-on and not built in to the structures. In designing work places for buildings, it should be kept in mind  that  change in technology result in change in operations and consequently, changes in needs for spaces and facilities within the building.

The MFP should be aimed to be a strong regional centre. Employees and workers in the MFP will be encouraged to live close to work only if all of the services and facilities that they need to access in their day to day living is available in a spitting distance. It should not be thought that MFP will draw  people  and activities e.g. retailing away from the CBD and therefore contribute to the  doughnut effect.  The MFP, in terms of activities, will not compete but rather would complement the activities offered by the CBD. Its high-tech magnet could work in tandem with arts and cultural activities and would add to the overall attractiveness as a rich and versatile destination.

The MFP has indeed all the makings of a model, next generation urban settlement. MFP  planners just have to  bear in mind that although  the traditional locational forces are now rendered irrelevant (Hall, 1991) and communications technologies had shrunk physical distances,  other centripetal forces are still at work. The magnet of Silicon Valley in the US and TechnoParks in Japan are still working. Thus there is no acceptable  reason for an MFP’s magnet to fail. It’s a matter of drawing up the right implementation plan and time  table to make the ball start rolling to a sustainable future.