Planning for Post-Conflict Cities: VR for Urban Planning and Research towards Building Back a Sustainable, Healthy, and Learning Marawi City

Lead Applicant:

Mario R. Delos Reyes / Mark Anthony M. Gamboa


Centre for Neighbourhood Studies Philippines in coordination with the Task Force Bangon Marawi (Philippines), Department of National Defense (Philippines), Mindanao State University – Marawi Campus (Philippines), and Marawi City Local Government Unit (Philippines)


The project entails developing and prototyping post-conflict planning, research, and training tool for the neighbourhoods using virtual reality (VR) technology. VR technology democratises planning by providing a means for visualisation and methodology for participation and engagement. At the same time, it promotes lifelong learning by making accessible experiential learning not just to academics but also to the community and stakeholders involved in planning and decision-making at the grassroots level.


The project developed a prototype using a post-conflict city as a pilot. The prototype was initially planned to provide the following ‘VR experiences’ to its users:

a. provide a more visual image of the neighbourhoods and their respective conditions and interests;

b. allow users to experience “being” in the area to help them have a “virtual” feel of the neighbourhoods and come up with appropriate planning scenarios and proposals to rebuild, rehabilitate, and reconstruct their neighbourhoods;

c. allow neighbourhood stakeholders to have a better appreciation and give necessary inputs to the proposed development interventions; and,

d. let neighbourhood stakeholders see their ideas included and visually translated into (virtual) reality enhancing shared ownership of the plan.

The prototype can address all the above-identified ‘VR experiences’ (a to c) except the visualisation of the ideas and inputs of neighbourhood stakeholders (d).

The visualisation of the neighbourhoods (a) and the experience of “being” (b) as well as the appreciation of the proposed development interventions (c) are all addressed by the prototype. The prototype provides users various scenarios—the condition of select sites right after the conflict (or the “the most affected areas”) and the possible future post-conflict developments integrating, among others, the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Plan for the Recovery of a War Ruined City and the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Program. However, the production of the future scenarios was limited by the lack of details (e.g., architectural, interior, and engineering design) of the projects identified in the plan that could have provided a more realistic rendering of the future development scenarios.

On the other hand, the integration and the visualisation of the inputs by the neighbourhood stakeholders (d) were not achieved. This would have been done in the proposed subsequent iteration of the VR tool after conducting the actual demonstration and workshops with the neighbourhood stakeholders. Unfortunately, this iteration was not made possible by the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines has prevented the team from conducting in-person demonstrations and workshops with the neighbourhood stakeholders in the Islamic City of Marawi. Due to health protocols and restrictions, the team could not travel to the Islamic City of Marawi. Instead, an online co-creation session, which had its inherent limitations, was conducted in place of the in-person workshop.

The pandemic situation in the Philippines since March 2020 has also constrained the establishment of the “spokes” following the ‘hub-and-spokes’ strategy adopted by the project wherein augmented reality technology is provided to the grassroots communities for them to see the proposed plans and have an interactive decision-support system. Furthermore, the establishment of the central “hub” at the University of the Philippines was also constrained by mobility restrictions due to the pandemic. Therefore, the VR hub is temporarily located at the UP Institute for Small Scale Industries building instead of the original plan of having the hub at the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning.


Given the challenges encountered by the project due to the restrictions brought about by COVID-19, the extent of capacity enhancement has been limited to advocacy and orientation about the potential uses of virtual reality in local planning and policymaking.

The project has many potentials in the long term. During the co-creation session held on 15 February 2022, the participants appreciated the applications of VR technology. They strongly agreed that VR makes policymaking and planning more responsive and inclusive. The participants also identified various uses of the VR technology in their respective fields, such as the following:

a.    Facilitate learning, creative ideas, and informed decisions (participant from a non-government organisation)

b.    VR application in disaster preparedness (participant from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative)

c.    Disaster planning and response, especially in an island recently devastated by a typhoon (participant from Siargao, Surigao del Norte)

d.    Enhancement of learning by allowing students to interact with their lessons and experience them (participant from Capiz State University)

e.    In the field of research, creation of an actual representation of data sets to be more interpreted in detail (participant from Capiz State University)

f.      Make more areas accessible to more (participant from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines)

g.    Visualisation of the areas for development like structures and economic projects (participant from the local government of the City of Naga, Province of Cebu)

h.    The conceptualisation of future developments, particularly in the preparation of site development plan; could help the team fully immersed with the future growth of the city (participant from the local government of the City of Naga, Province of Cebu)

The project’s long-term aim is to establish a VR Hub for Spatial Planning subscribing to the ‘hub-and-spoke’ strategy of the project with UPMDR and CeNS as ‘hub’ and various stakeholders representing the quadruple helix of innovation—the government, the civil society, the private sector/industry, and the neighbourhoods—as the spoke. It is expected that through the VR Hub, the project will result in the following:

a.    a robust interdisciplinary network of highly skilled researchers, project managers, and government technocrats

b.    new understanding of urbanisation at the neighbourhood-level

c.    new methodology utilised by the government

d.    a more responsive and appropriate plan for a neighbourhood/planning area.

These expected outcomes shall be monitored and evaluated collaboratively with the VR Hub as the lead.

Project Outputs

The project’s primary output is the prototype of a post-conflict planning and research tool harnessing virtual reality technology. The tool makes use of a room-scale virtual reality facility, where industry-grade virtual reality headsets, motion sensors, and rendered objects are put in place. The prototype features images of neighbourhoods in Marawi City, particularly in the areas most affected by the conflict, along with the rendering of selected proposed development projects.

While the prototype was being developed, the team also produced the following:

a.    a database (Google Docs) initially accessible to the internal members of the team due to national security concerns that would require clearance from appropriate authorities to share with the larger public. The database contains documents on the siege of the city and rehabilitation plans made by the national, local, and international organisations. This was produced as part of the review of related literature and secondary data conducted by the team, including the compilation of all available primary and secondary documents, such as the rehabilitation plans for the most affected area of the city and socioeconomic development plans and their spatial locations.

b.    conduct of a feasibility study for the establishment of a national virtual reality innovation and application centre for sustainable and smarter coastal urban and regional planning in the Philippines. Although not a direct sub-activity of the project, the conduct of the feasibility study served as a preparatory activity for the project to orient the team members on the technicalities and applications of VR technology in planning. The feasibility study team was comprised of eight members.

c.    series of partnership and linkages meetings with relevant government agencies (Task Force Bangon Marawi, Department of National Defense, Local Government of the Islamic City of Marawi), academic institutions (Mindanao State University, UP Institute for Small Scale Industries, Polytechnic University of the Philippines) and civil society (Centre for Neighbourhood Studies, Dana Asia, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, BornInFilm/PhotoNation) partners.

d.    series of internal workshops and writeshops with the VR development team both for the (i) technical aspects and processes and (ii) the application in various fields and settings of the VR technology for enhancing the capacity of the three research associates and two junior research fellows.

e.    Virtual Reality (VR) for Urban Planning and Research: An Online Co-creation Workshop where the prototype was presented to various representatives of academic institutions, civil society organisations, and local government units attended by participants from the following institutions and organisations:

  • Bohol Island State University

  • Bohol Provincial Government

  • Centre for Neighbourhood Studies (CeNS)

  • DANA Asia Philippines

  • Eastern Visayas State University

  • Harvard Humanitarian Institute

  • Local Government Unit of Del Carmen, Surigao Del Norte

  • Local Government of Naga, Cebu

  • Local Government of Quezon City, Metro Manila

  • Polytechnic University of the Philippines-Department of Communication Research (PUP-DCR)

  • Science City of Muñoz

  • University of the Philippines Institute for Small-Scale Industries (UP-ISSI)

Once health restrictions and protocols allow, a series of co-creation workshops with various stakeholders will be organised to enable the iterations of the prototype.

Future Activities

To sustain the project’s accomplishments, it will be institutionalised through the active involvement of the Centre for Neighbourhood Studies (CeNS), a research and technology organisation and an offshoot of the SHLC Project in the Philippines. The project, through CeNS, has initiated and is currently conceptualising initiatives that will use VR technology in various fields with the following:

  1. UP Institute for Small Scale Institute for the Building Anticipatory, Nimble, and Growing Neighbourhood Enterprises through Virtual Reality (BangonVR), the development of immersive training simulations featuring recovery responses for neighbourhood enterprises
  2. Various neighbourhood/local (barangay) governments for the Immersive Pocket Planning, an applied research neighbourhood development and capacity building initiative to scale up traditional sectoral and spatial planning of neighbourhoods through a resident-led understanding and improvement of neighbourhoods, informed by their perception and actual conditions of spaces and augmented by exponential and immersive technologies. In 2020, a CDAF proposal was submitted for Immersive Pocket Planning to sustain the gains of the Planning for Post-conflict Cities project but, unfortunately, was not granted funds.
  3. A fellowship program on immersive technology for smart city planning with the Asian Institute of Management where VR shall be used as one of the platforms.

The prototype produced will be subjected to several iterations through several co-creation workshops with the local government of the Islamic City of Marawi, the Mindanao State University, Task Force Bangon Marawi, and the Department of National Defense, with whom we have closely coordinated in the initial stages of the project. They were initially planned to be actively involved in the project’s implementation, but the plan was hampered by the health protocols and restrictions due to the pandemic.

Advocacy and co-creation sessions will also be organised with various stakeholders coming from the quadruple helix of innovation—the academe, the government (with focus on neighbourhoods), the civil society, and the private sector—to further enhance the prototype and scale up the use of VR in various academic disciplines and professional fields.

Capacity Strengthening

The project has enhanced the capabilities of the researchers involved in the project as well as the UPMDR in terms of the following:

a.    Conduct fieldwork research in a post-conflict city using various data-gathering tools such as 360o photos, video recording, and windshield survey

b.    Enhanced understanding of the process of rendering the actual 360o photographs and video recordings into VR-ready models

c.    Enhanced knowledge on the practical applications of VR Knowledge. The project has been accepted well by various stakeholders. For example, one participant in the co-creation session said:

I have limited idea in Virtual Reality, yet I really find it very interesting to learn more about VR and experience the technology to potentially facilitate us to a more effective and efficient project/development planning and implementation, which I relate my profession as an educator and want to be involved in community development. Salamat po sa opportunity na makasali sa development na ito (Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this development).

The project led to the institution of the Co-creation Hub at CeNS, where provotypes (provocative prototypes) and solutions are collaboratively created. The Co-creation Hub is a partnership cycle for prototyping several human-centred solutions among CeNS, a partner, and a beneficiary. New forms of co-operation have been initiated through the Co-creation Hub. In the initial stages of conceptualisation are the initiatives with Dana Asia, UP Institute for Small Scale Industries, and the Asian Institute of Management.

In the long-term, the following strengthened capacities are expected from the project through the envisioned VR Hub for Spatial Planning:

a.    Institutional level

  • National government agencies are expected to come up with new policy guidelines on post-conflict planning, particularly on man-made disasters
  • Local government shall implement the mainstreaming/integration of conflict management tools into planning
  • The academe shall see the development of new topics/approaches in teaching planning at the neighbourhood level

b.    Organisational level

  • Local governments are expected to develop improved capability on rebuilding/rehabilitation operations as well as stakeholder management, monitoring, and evaluation for civil society
  • Private organisations and funding institutions’ CSR activities and policies will include post-conflict areas.
  • The project is also expected to impact the policy advocacy of community organisations

c.    Individual level

  • Enhance the knowledge of the technical staff of concerned NGAs, particularly those directly involved in post-conflict management
  • Research capabilities of members of the public sector may likewise be enhanced to include post-conflict management
  • For private companies, increased knowledge on post-conflict management is expected
  • Increased awareness in post-conflict management may also be expected of individual members of the community organisations of the CSR staff

To monitor the impact, the hub of the VR, which is the UPMDR and CeNS, will continue to implement the ‘hub-and-spoke’ strategy as envisioned in the proposal in partnership with various institutions and organisations which have signified their interest and/or commitment to the scaling up the practical applications of VR.

We look forward to the use of VR; we want to try the actual VR since we’ve been seeing it only on games—a local government staff, 15 February 2022