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Counterpart Profile John Waayan

Blending Land Use Planning and Tradition In Yap

Jason Kruckeberg

Building codes, land use surveys, site planning and design; these activities bring up images of architects, engineers, and planners. John Waayan is a little of each. Waayan is the principal planner for the Yap State Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) and his job duties extend to most of the planning projects conducted by the Yap State Government.

From August through October of 1996, Waayan worked with Jason Kruckeberg, a technical assistant from the University of Oregon Micronesia and South Pacific Program (MSPP) to create a building code for Yap. Waayan has worked with the MSPP twice before, acting as a counterpart for technical assistant Larry Vasquez on a land use surveying and mapping project for the Colonia area, and with Vasquez and Ned White on a planning and design project for the proposed Colonia Center. Each of the three projects Waayan and the MSPP have worked on has a common thread: they are all attempts to introduce land use planning measures to Yap.

 Photograph: Jason Kruckeberg John Waayan

John Waayan grew up in Maap Municipality and became interested in drafting and architecture in high school. In 1984, he went to college in Texas, where he studied and worked for six years, earning a degree in architecture. Waayan returned to Yap in 1990 and, after a six month position as a building inspector, accepted a job as planner with the OPB. In addition to managing planning projects, Waayan writes specifications for buildings, performs field inspections, and is one of the operators of the new Disaster Control PEACESAT radio terminal. As his job has expanded to include more responsibilities, Waayan has become increasingly interested in land use planning issues.

Land use planning in Yap is a fairly new concept. The idea of creating certain zones to identify the most appropriate land use for different parcels of land goes against Yapese traditions of private property. Additionally, Yap has a very complicated land ownership and tenure system which makes it challenging to establish land use planning measures. Land is passed down through the family for generations and it is often very difficult to figure out who owns what. As Waayan says, "One of the biggest issues for land use planning in Yap is that often nobody agrees on the boundaries of each others' land."

The vast majority of the land area of Yap State is held in private ownership. All land projects must be cleared through the Council of Pilung (for Yap Proper) or the Council of Tamol (for the outer islands) before they can proceed. The councils are made up of the chiefs of each municipality. For all planning projects, Waayan talks to the chief of the municipality where the project is taking place. The chief then is responsible for informing the residents about the proposed project. Waayan and the OPB are not trying to replace the traditional system; they are trying to enhance it with some modern land use planning tools. "Yap has a long history of oral culture and tradition and our subsistence lifestyle is very strong. We aren't going to change that. We do need to plan for development though, because development is changing Yap in many ways."

Regarding Yap's next steps in land use planning, Waayan hopes to improve mapping and information for all of government-owned land on Yap proper. Once this is completed, he will attempt to move these ideas into the private holdings, most likely beginning with a public education program to promote planning. Waayan also hopes to implement the newly drafted building code to ensure that new buildings are sited and built according to standards. Regarding the building code, and all planning projects on Yap, Waayan feels that, "It's best to start slow, put something in place, and then change it over time as the situation changes." Using this philosophy, Yap will be able to plan for development, while at the same time retain the culture and traditions that make it so unique.


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