Resilient Cities, Brighter Futures: A Forum-Workshop on Anticipatory Studies and Strategic Foresigh

Local administrators, environmentalists, scholars, and civil society groups gather for a Forum-Workshop on Anticipatory Studies and Strategic Foresight

With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas, cities now lie at the heart of global sustainability, social cohesion, and prosperity. Understanding the 21st century challenges and opportunities that cities confront is important. The massive devastation and human suffering that Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) brought to Leyte and Samar in the Eastern Visayas highlighted inefficiencies in existing crisis management and disaster risk reduction programs in the Philippines. The painful experience with Haiyan signalled a re-thinking and re-framing of city and town planning theories, policies, and practices.


Hence, upon the invitation of UNESCO Headquarters’ Foresight Section during the 37th Session of the UNESCO General Conference (November 2013), Philippines NatCom’s Social and Human Sciences (SHS) Committee organized a Forum-Workshop on Anticipatory Studies and Strategic Foresight Methods with the theme “Resilient Cities, Brighter Futures” in Laoag City on 21 to 24 May 2014.


Other than UNESCO Headquarters, the forum-workshop was held in partnership with the Centre for Engaged Foresight of Laoag City’s Northwestern University as well as the City Government of Laoag. The three-day Forum-Workshop offered occasions for learning and exchange and had several foreign and national experts on futures thinking, urban planning and disaster risk management as speakers.


The first session featured speakers from the Asia-Pacific network of Foresight Study Centres. Mark Alexander, a researcher from the Hawaii Research Centre for Futures Studies of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, shared how their Centre worked closely with Hawaii authorities to craft a legislation that aligns built structures and the natural environment with ongoing (actual and expected) climate changes. Jian Bang Deng, Director of Taipei’s Tamkang University Graduate Institute of Future Studies, spoke on the integration of foresight thinking (as a multidisciplinary approach) for the enrichment of each of the university’s course offerings. Hyun Ryul Park of South Korea’s International Heal-Being Centre shared how their Centre contributes to the management of cities and societies through the promotion of eco-friendly decisions and programs. Finally, Shermon Cruz, Director of Northwestern University’s Centre for Engaged Foresight, presented a paper assessing where the Filipinos are in terms of long-term thinking. He posits that Filipinos tend to be short-term oriented and are not disposed towards foresight thinking and planning. He then called for employing foresight thinking, especially in the face of climate change in order to build more resilient cities in the future.

A panel of Filipino experts composed of (L-R): Arch. Felino Palafox of Palafox Associates; Dr. Mahar Lagmay, of DOST’s Project NOAH;  Mr. Moncini Hinay, WWF Philippines; Dean Mario Delos Reyes of UP SURP, chaired by Dr. Rudy Bareng, NWU’s  VP for Research and Development during an open forum.

The second session of the forum focused on how various expert groups in the Philippines assist cities in managing climate change impacts. Globally-renowned Filipino architect and urban planner, Felino Palafox of Palafox Associates, presented scenarios of how the Philippines can create resilient cities despite being the world’s third most vulnerable country to natural disasters. He emphasized that cities vary enormously in terms of adaptation and vulnerability and that a city’s adaptive capacity is contingent on its governance, institutions, technology, wealth, and the propensity to plan. Using findings from their study on Business Risk Assessment and Management of Climate Change, Moncini Hinay, project manager of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Philippines, discussed how climate change impacts in the Philippines can be turned from being risks, threats, and developmental hindrances to economic and development opportunities by applying futures methods of assessing local city characteristics and envisioning their possible future scenarios. Mario Delos Reyes, Dean of the University of the Philippines School of Urban and Regional Planning, recalled the frontline role of local government units in formulating, planning and implementing climate change actions as mandated by Republic Act 9729 and the availability of funding climate change adaptation programs at the local level. Finally, Mahar Lagmay, Executive Director of Project Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH), emphasized the important contribution of science and technology in disaster preparedness for Philippines cities. Through information and communications technology, Project NOAH has strategically mapped out the country reflecting better city planning in managing disaster risks. In addition, Dr. Lagmay shared the importance of mainstreaming access of this technology through social media in order to reach the masses who are the most vulnerable to climate risks.

Mayor Chevylle Fariñas, Mayor of Laoag City, discusses Laoag City’s DRR-CCAM initiatives.

The third session had, for presenters, local government units who shared their Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction best practices. Mayor Chevylle Fariñas presented the measures instituted by Laoag City such as stockpiling of resources, dredging and de-clogging of canals, ensuring suitability of evacuation centres, and establishment of early warning systems. She also highlighted how these were tested and proven effective when the city was hit by Supertyphoon Pepeng in October 2013. John Eugene Vincent Escobar, Statistician of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office, showed how the Province of Albay, despite being one of the most vulnerable regions, has been recognized as a global model of disaster resilience— having zero casualty during disasters. He shared how the province has institutionalized disaster risk and climate change management by establishing a warning system protocol and evacuation procedure, constructing permanent evacuation centres, creating Albay safe schools, among other initiatives. On the other hand, Merlina Panganiban, Makati City’s Urban Development Officer, presented how the city has integrated some new mechanisms into its land use planning activities in coming up with a risk sensitive Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance. She highlighted Makati’s use of map sieving (a Geographic Information System-based process) and development suitability analysis (a map layering strategy that identifies where development should be encouraged) to assist the LGU in its decision-and policy-making with regard to responding to disasters and climate change.

Mr. John Eugene Vincent Escobar of Albay Province, Mr. Perry Martinez of Laoag City and Ms. Merlina Panganiban of Makati City comprised a panel session on the best practices of LGUs on DRR-CCAM, chaired by Atty. Ferdinand Nicolas, NWU’s VP for Administration.

On the second and third days, Dr. Sohail Inayatullah, UNESCO resource person on Foresight Studies, facilitated workshops designed to raise participants’ appreciation of the importance of challenging traditional mind-sets and social norms in order to creatively and innovatively look at and plan for the future. He emphasized that at certain points in time, there is a need to overcome and in fact discard the habitual ways of thought and existing paradigms and discourses that have become too rooted or caught up in people’s ideologies and politically correct advocacies. The workshop asked the participants to become mindful of their particular challenges and problems, while at the same time become aware of new worlds of opportunities and possibilities.

Dr. Sohail Inayatullah explains paradigm shifts in Anticipatory Studies and Strategic Thinking.

The forum-workshop was attended by 90 participants, with as many as 70 coming from local government units, schools, government offices, universities, and other institutions outside Laoag City and the province of Ilocos Norte. Following the conclusion of the workshop, the participants were treated to a heritage tour of Laoag City, Paoay, and Vigan City (Ilocos Sur), courtesy of the forum’s local hosts, Dr. Maria Liza S. Nicolas, President, Northwestern University; Mayor Chevylle Farinas, Laoag City; Mayor Bonifacio Clemente, Jr., Municipality of Paoay; and Vigan City Mayor Eva Marie Medina.

A group discussing how they foresee their cities in the future.