LEGAZPI CITY—This year’s search for the country’s top 3 most livable cities has formally ended with this key Bicol metropolis, known in the travel industry world as the “City of Fun and Adventure,” named as one of them.
In the ranking among the three, Iloilo came first, this city second and Cebu third.
All three were awarded the title at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City on Wednesday.
The search, called the Livable Cities Design Challenge, was organized by the National Competitiveness Council (NCC), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) 2015 National Organizing Council, World Wildlife Fund, Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Reconstruction (Assure) and Asia Society and Urban Land Institute (ULI).
It is sponsored by the United States Assistance for International Development (USAID), which has been supporting the Cities Development Initiative programs, like Project INVEST, in three cities across the country—Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and Batangas.
With this new competition, the USAID is expected to add more local government units to the program when it launches Project SURGE before the end of this year.
According to the USAID, the winning cities, aside from being entitled to technical assistance, will be given other privileges, such as business loans, to attract more investors, educational and academic assistance and other grants, such as in health, economic growth, and support for environment and energy.
The competition, launched in March during the Second Annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative (PCSI) Forum held in Manila, was aimed at getting city planners across the Philippines to be more aware and better prepared for disaster risk reduction.
Organized in response to the urgency of dealing with climate change, the search has been made especially significant in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) and reconstruction efforts for the severely battered Visayan region.
By launching this design challenge, its organizers have been able to start a movement for better urban planning across the country to make cities fun, vibrant and safe places to live, work, invest in and visit.
According to NCC Private Sector Co-chairman Guillermo Luz, “In order to build a competitive country, we need to build competitive cities.”
Apart from the three winners, 17 other cities—Angeles, Bacolod, Baguio, Baybay (Leyte), Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, San Fernando (La Union), Marikina, Olongapo, Ormoc (Leyte), Pasay, Pasig, Surigao, Tacloban, Valenzuela and Zamboanga—accepted the challenge and joined the competition.
These cities include those hosting Apec Meetings in 2015 and others that are vulnerable or have been affected by disasters in the past.
This city has been designated to host the Apec opening summit on December 8 and 9, as well as 10 of the 53 ministerial meetings to be held between March and December next year. The other meetings will be shared by other cities of the country. The Apec Summit, expected to be attended mainly by 21 economic ministers from member-economies that include the Philippines, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and Vietnam, will be held at the Oriental Hotel and Resort here.
In the search, each competing city was required to come up with strategic vision and plan for a resilient and livable city and in developing an Apec meeting venue.
“With the help of the city chapter of the United Architects of the Philippines [UAP], headed by its president Maridel Baldano, we were able to come up with a strategic plan for a highly resilient and livable city, featuring a safe and green environment aimed sustaining good public health, which impressed the search judges,” City Mayor Noel Rosal said.
Baldano said the plan, themed “Healthy City, Happy City,” presents far-reaching innovations that inspire a more dynamic development of the city into a very safe and healthy locality for its people and visitors, as well.
“We are reversing in this plan the past reputation of the city as an area messed up by natural calamities that severely debilitated its rising economy,” she said.
The plan that UAP prepared, Baldano said, is based on the peculiarity of the city in refusing to go down on its knees amid those disasters and rising fast and sparkle once again as the Bicol region’s most exciting place to visit and stay.
She recalled that the city suffered the catastrophic impact of two major typhoons—Milenyo and Reming.
But amid those devastating scenarios, Baldano said, the badly shaken spirit of the city regained its composure promptly and the herculean character its administration has developed for the local government and instilled among the governed swiftly roused back to work.
“Life does not only continue to bloom in this city after those disasters. It has been getting livelier as we in the city administration continue to nourish its booming economy and explore more opportunities to rise high,” Rosal said.
Indeed, Legazpi now has transformed itself from the remains of natural disasters into a world-class city with an influx of investments and tourism-related developments, and asserting these gains, among others, is the tremendous growth in the local tourism industry that the city, as among the country’s leading tourist destinations, has been achieving, according to Baldano.