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Building better cities

With extreme weather disturbances now the new normal worldwide, it's but appropriate for governments to seek "best practices and new approaches" to bringing about "livable cities" that will ensure the wellbeing, indeed the very survival, of their constituents. It takes bold thinking as well as an open mind.

In the Asia-Pacific, the modern city also needs to be "resilient" - meaning capable of surviving not only the natural disasters that regularly come our way but also the unnatural blight brought about by unchecked urban growth.

This was the essence of the 2nd Annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative (PCSI) Forum held last week in Manila, where foreign and local experts in urban living and sustainability shared their thoughts and discussed possibilities concerning such life-and-death issues as disaster preparedness, recovery, integrated planning, housing, investment, and good governance. The idea was to engage and share ideas within the community of nations, according to the reality that is climate change.

The Asia-Pacific region regularly experiences all manner of natural disasters from typhoons to earthquakes to tsunamis. The Philippines continues to suffer the effects of the devastation wrought by super typhoon "Yolanda/Haiyan" in November 2013. In many frightening ways we have been made aware of the wisdom of preparing for the worst, and of the utter folly of haphazard preparations.

In welcoming the delegates to the PCSI Forum, Urban Land Institute Philippines chairman Carlos S Rufino said it was a privilege for the Philippines to host the conference "given our own most recent experience" with Yolanda/Haiyan. He said that "despite the geographical vulnerability and environmental challenges in this age of climate change, the Asia-Pacific region has never been more resilient".

Asia Society Philippines Foundation chairwoman Doris Magsaysay-Ho said the PCSI Forum would provide city mayors and their administrators with "the chance to draw out ideas and principles from the experiences of the gathered expert participants". And along with the timely exchange of ideas, the conference also laid down the groundwork for the 2015 Philippines Livable and Resilient Cities Competition. Twenty-one Philippine cities - from Angeles to Zamboanga - will vie for top honours in best urban planning and disaster risk reduction to meet the challenge of climate change.

The competition thus promises to be an opportunity to apply the lessons learned from the conference - a significant learning experience that cannot but lead to better lives.

Applying the lessons requires both ambition and devotion. And it has been done. After the terrible earthquake that levelled Christchurch in 2011, New Zealand lifted interest rates last week after a three-year moratorium due to its booming economic recovery. Such bullishness was also exhibited in 2012 by Auckland, New Zealand's largest and most populous city, when it launched a 30-year blueprint to turn itself into the world's most livable city.

The PCSI Forum highlighted the urgent need for concerted thinking in battling the dangers besetting the planet. If our cities are to survive - and flourish - in this changing world, then it is imperative to buckle down to work. It is only through working together that humankind will survive.


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