Principles of Urban Planning

A STUDY released by the United Nations Human Settlements Program says that the world’s fastest growing cities today are in Asia, and among them is Metro Manila. Manila is in 12th place among 22 cities in terms of investment prospects.

The Philippines will be the 16th largest economy in 2050, alongside developing nations like Mexico, Turkey and Argentina. However, a great percentage of people living in these countries are urban poor who continue to have limited access to basic public services and utilities such as education, healthcare and electricity, among others, and opportunities for advancement.

How then can we bring inclusive growth to a rapidly growing economy? As an urban planner and architect, I see the advantages of urban development to all sectors and social classes in society. Good urban planning will create safer, sustainable, more livable, resilient and economically competitive communities where people can flourish.


Urban planning, also known as environmental planning here in the Philippines, can easily be understood as a guide for the future of a community. It deals with more than simply how a city will look like physically — the shape of its roads, architectural styles, the number of parks, etc. Among other things, it can also determine what kinds of jobs people will have access to, how much pollution will be generated, and the types of transportation that will move people from one place to another. In the 21st century, urban planning is necessary to help sustain and improve communities.

In many advanced cities like Singapore, Dubai, New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul and Copenhagen, the right urban planning principles facilitate and promote quality of life, economic development and social inclusion to achieve long-term development goals. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has developed planning principles that urban developers can rely on to design sustainable and flourishing cities.

First, all communities should thrive. Unique and diverse neighborhoods are at the heart of a city. In Singapore, for example, inclusiveness is fostered, and diversity is embraced through various programs. The “ethnic integration policy” implemented by the Housing Development Board of Singapore ensures a balanced ethnic mix in public housing estates. As a result, it encourages greater social integration. Conservation plans of the Urban Redevelopment Authority have restored and preserved the built heritage of select city buildings, districts and community centers, and have created spaces for people to interact and engage in a range of activities. Inclusiveness fosters trust, cohesion and understanding among demographically diverse communities, and the challenge for planners is to increase opportunities for meaningful social interaction between different groups.

Second, plan for long-term growth and renewal. Shanghai has undoubtedly achieved its goal to be modern China’s financial and economic center after articulating this goal more than 20 years ago. Their long-term vision guided the city’s urban regeneration to make Shanghai one of the top cities of the world. Shanghai’s Pudong New Area is one of the most dynamic examples of city building in history. Its plan has been hugely successful in employing underused land.

The next principles correlate with the first two. Third, for communities to thrive in the long term, it is important to stick to the plans once they are made and fourth, accommodate growth while recognizing the great neighborhoods already in existence. A good urban plan builds on the strengths of a city, so its unique features must be preserved to enhance the city’s development. For example, the heritage, harbor front, vibrant streets and street markets in Hong Kong are unique features of the place. Today, Hong Kong is known for its skyline, panoramic views and high-density development along the Victoria Harbor. Hong Kong is now working to enhance its waterfront and improve the quality of its public realm and open spaces to strengthen its image and identity. The Hong Kong 2030+ study involves a process of public engagements that facilitate productive debates and discussions on many important issues regarding the future development of Hong Kong, so that it can continuously improve.

The subsequent urban planning principles can guide city planners, governments, and citizens in strategically planning and managing a community’s resources. Assuring quality infrastructure, commitment to budgeting adequate resources, and conducting environmental reviews are all integral to raising the quality of life in an area. Priority infrastructure and environmental projects like schools, hospitals, efficient public transportation, proper waste management and parks are identified and undertaken. The case of Singapore is always notable: what was once known as “a garden city” has evolved into “a city in a garden” because many parks and green spaces are scattered along neighborhoods and form an important part of the urban landscape. To advocate the livability of the city, the private and public sectors must work cooperatively and share various tasks and resources.

All these principles would be put into action through meaningful engagement. Many people are involved in the urban planning process — from professional urban planners working for local governments to members of the academe, business owners, and residents who are interested in the future of their communities. Each group is important and plays a different role in contributing to a successful plan.

Palafox is at present undertaking several urban planning projects, and we always endeavor to plan and design places that are inclusive, sustainable, and promote an improved way of life. Our country needs very good urban planners and leaders who appreciate good urban planning to continue the race. We must value urban planning, make it a well-known discipline, and popularize it as a career option, especially among the youth. We can spread the optimism and hope we have in nation-building through the task of urban planning, which we all share to a greater degree.


Source: Manila Times