The recent pandemic has caught most people off-guard, forcing everyone into a new reality we only thought existed in the movies. Save for zombies hanging around empty streets and derelict structures, our villages and cities now pretty much resemble Walking Dead sets where all public activities have come to a complete halt as people realise mandatory isolation is the best defense against what can be considered as mankind’s most fatal enemy in the last decade: COVID-19.
Cities, even countries, around the world — most of them never in our wildest dreams have we ever imagined capable of transforming into ghost-town like existence in only a matter of days — have turned eerily quiet as a result of people staying indoors and shunning all forms of social interaction. While this collective effort of helping the world power through the pandemic by keeping close to home is slowly becoming our new normal (at least until a vaccine is developed), the challenges brought about by isolation are becoming more palpable by the day, especially for high density areas like Metro Manila.
Sustainability is slowly becoming a priority in local government units. When people can’t go out of their homes, they are forced to find ways of becoming self-sustaining when isolated from the rest of the world. This brings into focus the physical environment which we live in. Does it provide us with the space we need in order to be self-reliant? Do we have enough spatial opportunities that encourage good physical and mental well-being? When we do go out, are the basic necessities located within comfortable walking distance from our homes?
For those of us who are slowly acknowledging the fact that living in single-detached homes might be ideal for surviving any health crisis scenario, we may be starting to look at which residential subdivisions are best poised physically to provide our families with pandemic-resilient dwellings. Some of us may be beginning to take a serious look at the village we currently live in, taking note of how we have or haven’t been able to thrive over the past 30-something days in quarantine.
What do we therefore need to watch out for, to ensure that our village or community is pandemic-resilient? Here are four things:
Setbacks, or the distance measured from the property line to the edge/outermost face of a structure’s wall, dictate the size and extent of a building footprint. While the National Building Code of the Philippines sets forth minimum standards for this, villages and LGUs would sometimes implement stricter rules.
For instance, if you live on a property with a lot size of over 310 square meters (or properties that fall under R-1 category per the Building Code), you will not be allowed to build firewalls on any part of the lot. This means that you will have to follow the minimum allowed distance from your property line to the outermost wall of your home — which is 2.0 meters on the sides and rear, and 4.5 meters at the front (or the side facing the road). Building beyond these setbacks is prohibited.
Some villages would even require homeowners to maintain 3 meters setback from side and rear property lines — a rule that is even stricter than Building Code stipulations.
Why is this an important consideration especially during a pandemic?
Setbacks enable us to equip our homes with sufficient ventilation and abundant natural light. Setbacks are a portion of the ground on which we can walk, connect with the earth, and grow (edible) plants. Whenever village officials strictly implement setback requirements, homeowners are afforded physical space that encourages sustainable living. Pretty interesting, right? Even without having to leave the property, homeowners can go out to their lawns or yards to receive their daily dose of immune-boosting vitamin D from the sun. Having access to an outdoor space where one can stretch his legs may positively impact the health, as this can help reduce cabin fever. When these open spaces are turned into edible gardens, homeowners are able to produce their own food from the comforts of home. Medicinal plants can also be grown to help with first aid treatment in the family. When plants abound, more oxygen is made available for human consumption.
What’s more, setbacks can be used as an area for putting up a rainwater collection and filtration system. When designed and built correctly, this can serve a family’s water supply needs during a pandemic.
Lastly, setbacks provide a physical buffer around the home. As opposed to properties sharing a firewall, as in the case for duplexes and townhouses, the setbacks between properties serve as an extension of the homeowners’ personal space, which allows safe separation from other people. Now that’s social distancing in the architecture world!
2. PARKS & OPEN SPACE ALLOCATION
If village restrictions have allowed you to build firewalls on your property, chances are you are missing out on the health benefits discussed above brought about by access to green, open spaces. This is where the importance of community parks comes in.
Exercise, the outdoors, and sunshine are essential to overall health and immunity. We all ought to know by now that excellent immunity is key to battling all kinds of viruses and bacteria. Vitamin D is produced when the body is exposed to the sun. According to wedmd.com, too little vitamin D is associated with cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in the elderly, severe asthma in children, and cancer. When food sources of this vitamin are scarce as may be the case during a lockdown, good old sunlight is the optimal alternative source.
These parks also serve as breathing patches of land. Unpaved, untouched ground is permeable, and is therefore able to absorb water runoffs efficiently. In the event that a lockdown happens during the typhoon season, flooding is one less thing to worry about in communities with sufficient green open spaces.
The benefits are endless when parks and open spaces are used by the community. These green pockets should be of primary consideration when choosing a village to live in — in good times and in bad, pandemic or none.
3. POCKET FACILITIES
A sustainable development should be able to provide its residents not only roofs over their heads, but also establishments that can deliver food, water, first aid, and maybe even banking and laundry services!
Does your village have a commercial zone where these essential services may be accessed? In case of a lockdown where public transportation is cut off, will you be able to obtain these services without having to sacrifice safety?
Often, because of the desire for “exclusivity”, village developers tend overlook the need to make facilities accessible to everyone. Large subdivisions that sprawl across several hectares of land should have more than one commercial or community zone that serves its residents. Homeowners shouldn’t always have to go all the way to the village entrance where these establishments are usually built, especially if this would mean walking more than a kilometer, or driving more than 20 minutes, just to buy food or get checked in a clinic.
Like pocket parks and gardens, look for “pocket facilities” in your village that offer basic services. There should at least be one of these for each phase, so that even when the entire village is closed off from the outside world, residents can have safe and comfortable access to basic living necessities within the community.
4. COMMUNITY FACILITIES
Clubhouses and function rooms are community facilities most people are familiar with. It is ideal for villages to have these especially during a lockdown as they can be transformed into holding or isolation areas for village employees who come and go on a daily basis. When everyone is protected including frontliners and workers, the whole community stands a better chance of winning against even the most pervasive pathogens.
These provisions have always been part of well-designed and sustainable communities, and of best urban design practices. This health crisis is reminding us of our right to dwell in an environment that ultimately supports our well-being and protects us from harm. As property buyers, we are reminded of what to look for when purchasing house and lots for our families. As landowners looking to build homes, we are encouraged to seek professional design assistance to help us ensure safe and sustainable dwellings for us and our families — and get our money’s worth.