Cities are facing a complex set of challenges for sustainable growth, especially when considering the balance between developmental growth and setback from disasters. Urban expansion as a result of economic and population growth is taking place at an unprecedented pace. However, amplified disaster frequency coupled with an excessively agglomerating urban population and substandard infrastructure means that the amount of people affected by environmental change, such as natural disasters or climate change, is increasing. Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), a category five typhoon, devastated several regions in the Philippines on November 8, 2013. A ‘state of national calamity’ was declared three days later, and the central government unveiled the first recovery vision – “Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda: Build Back Better (RAY)” – within the first month. In this vision, a “no-build zone” was identified as one of the premier strategies to minimize vulnerabilities of coastal communities from future disasters. This was also the beginning of a several-month controversy centering on the “build back better” concept. This research focuses on Tacloban City as a case of a city that faces strong development forces, while simultaneously coping with recovery from a recent disaster. This paper captures dialogue on ‘build back better’ by policy makers and planners at the national, local, and community level at an early stage of recovery by tracing decisions/indecisions and actions/inactions around land use and livelihoods of the affected region. This research relies on data collected through various interviews with national and local government officers, community (barangay) leaders, and local residents at four months after the typhoon. Publicly available official documents collected in the field and from a distance were also used. One of the major findings is that the space and time needed to plan ‘risk-considered’ rebuilding affects planning processes, decisions, and implementation to a great degree. While the emphasis on avoiding risk through land use decisions in rebuilding has softened as time proceeds at the national level, at the local level it remains strong. Nonetheless, limited resources and delays in carrying out risk-controlled land use have increased vulnerabilities in contrast to local desires.