When We Fail to Plan Our Cities, We Plan to Fail the Community
Urban planning is oft overlooked, especially in the Philippines, where vision can change with changes in the administration of national and local governments. It’s important to stick to one vision for implementation – but why? Our Administrative Officer, Sophia, who studied human settlements planning in UP Los Baños, tells us.
What is planning?
Planning is an activity to visualize a desired future and guide current behaviors, structures, and tools to achieve this future. Planning is also a process that includes different methods and techniques to create a comprehensive plan for the community. This process is not linear but cyclical. Planning usually starts with identifying problems that need to be addressed and ends with implementation of the best solution/s. Monitoring and identifying problems that may arise in implementation should follow, and continue the planning process. Unfortunately, most plans end in implementation and do not follow through with monitoring and evaluation of implementation.
There has been a notion that plans are only for planners. The fact is, plans are for everyone. A plan, to be effective, should be understandable by everyone because everyone’s (quality of) life is at stake if it becomes successful or not. Plans are not just written documents. Plans need to be implemented in the community. We cannot expect the community to actively engage in planning and implementation if they do not understand what it is for.
But why do we need to plan?
We plan for the future.
We develop plans to include programs and activities to help us achieve a future we envision or to see the change we want. For example, we have disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) plans to reduce disaster risks and equip us with knowledge and skills in disaster management. We have these plans in the Philippines so we can create “Safer, Adaptive, and Disaster Resilient Filipino Communities Towards Sustainable Development”. We want to change the current disaster management of the country from being reactive to proactive, and focus on disaster prevention and mitigation and disaster preparedness.
We plan to reduce the uncertainties and risks of the future. To do that, we need to look back to our history to understand our present, which will help us effectively plan for our future. In our DRRM plans, we look into previous disasters that affected the country and learn from these so that the worst will not happen again. We take note of indigenous knowledge and practices of communities in disaster management, and couple these with scientific advancements and technologies that we have today — all for the goal of creating safer, adaptive, and disaster-resilient communities.
There have been discussions on the necessity of disaster management plans. Some claim that they are not a necessity because whether we act or not, we will still experience the adverse impacts of disasters. Somehow it is true that we will still experience the impacts of disasters, but if we have disaster management plans, we could reduce these adverse impacts and even report zero casualties after a disaster.
Planning allows for efficient use of resources.
Furthermore, planning allows for efficient use of resources, simply because we know where we’re heading — the goal we want to achieve. However, identifying a goal is no easy task. In the planning process, the community, with the help of planners, need to know the problems they have and their root causes.
After problem identification comes goal articulation. In this planning step, stakeholders bargain and negotiate because they may perceive the future differently. Stakeholders must arrive at a common goal that is beneficial to everyone. Problem identification and goal articulation are done to ensure that programs and activities included in the plan will address the problem, and are necessary to achieve the goal. These steps also ensure that we do not settle for band-aid solutions to the problems identified, but choose efficient and sustainable solutions.
Many alternatives are listed and tested before we can identify the most efficient and sustainable solution. This leads us to the last reason why we need to plan: planning is an avenue of sustainable development.
Planning is an avenue of sustainable development.
Planning includes the allocation of scarce resources for maximum efficiency and the benefit of everyone in the community, without compromising our environment and the ability of future generations to utilize these resources.
Now that we know the importance of planning in our daily lives, we should not take it for granted. As individual members of the community, we should not be complacent about our future just because plans exist somewhere (if they even do), or because it is someone else’s job to create these plans. We should actively participate in the activities of our community to ensure the plans are beneficial for all of us, and that they will not merely remain plans.
On the other hand, planners and decision-makers should always exhaust all means to engage all stakeholders in the community. This will always be one of the challenges of planning — to be inclusive and participative – but there is no way around it if planning is to be meaningful and effective.