to reconsider its relationship with the built environment

By Patricia B. Mirasol

“Now is the time to rethink what we want city centers to be like, to repurpose prime urban real estate for mixed use, and build urban areas with a focus on community, accessibility, inclusion, and sustainability,” said Paul D. Priestman, founder and chair of PriestmanGoode, a design consultancy out of the UK that counts Airbus SE and Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway as its clients.

“I’m personally interested in opportunities for designers to work with local governments and cities to regenerate and repurpose spaces to be more people- and planet-focused.”

For architect and urban planner Felino A. Palafox, Jr., tactical urbanism is the way to go. “We’ve gone from green to greed to gridlock,” he told BusinessWorld in a Zoom call. “We need more open spaces, and interconnect this fragmented metropolis…with more pedestrian bridges, more waterfront promenades, more bike lanes.”

Mr. Palafox noted that Mayor Josefina “Joy” Belmonte-Alimurung of Quezon City has started practicing tactical urbanism, which is an approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions for long-term change.

“Mayor Belmonte is doing tactical urbanism, just like the lady mayor in Paris is doing to make Paris a 15-minute city,” he said, referring to an urban design approach that aims to improve quality of life by creating cities where everything a resident needs can be reached within 15 minutes by foot, bike, or public transit.

The Quezon City government, according to Mr. Palafox, is collaborating with the private sector to interconnect the various parks in the city (La Mesa Ecology Park, MWSS-Balara Park, Ninoy Aquino Park, and Quezon Circle Park) with walkways and bicycle lanes. All parks were master planned by Palafox Associates.

“I really like how the LGUs (local government units)and National Government agencies put in the effort in understanding the needs of bike commuters,” said King Emmanuel C. Filart, co-founder of bike advocacy group Cycling Matters, commenting on the improved quality of bike lanes in the country. “These collaborative efforts look very promising.”

Mr. Filart noted, however, that there is still “a bit of doubt whether these wonderful changes are here to stay.” Some similar efforts in the past, he said, have been in the spirit of “masabi lang na mayroon (for the sake of compliance).”

This mindset has given rise to the broken bollards, fallen bike lane barriers, missing traffic signs, and faded road paint that we live with today, he told BusinessWorld.

The coronavirus has pushed health and wellness to the top of the priority list when it comes to design briefs. Solutions such as elevator air purifiers and self-disinfecting handrails are already available locally for companies to achieve this end.

In Laguna, sanitation robots are used in an automotive manufacturing facility to clean surfaces and the surrounding air. The Keno UV-C robot, according to its manufacturer Robotic Activation, Inc., uses ultraviolet (UV) radiation to kill pathogens.

The UK also widely uses UV cleaning in aviation and urban transit. “In London, for instance, over a quarter of the escalators on the London Underground network have already been fitted with UV light sanitizing devices, which clean the handrails continuously throughout the day,” Mr. Priestman said.

There is also a resurgence in the use of natural antimicrobial materials — like brass and copper — for their aesthetic and hygiene properties, he told BusinessWorld. PriestmanGoode is working with suppliers on self-cleaning materials with built-in anti-microbial properties, and working towards making these certifiable for transport.

The post-pandemic world will also be more sustainable — as consumer sentiment from surveys show that more people are paying attention to how their individual choices impact the environment.

This move toward green is reflected on a larger scale by industrialists like San Miguel Corp. President Ramon S. Ang, who is planning future airports and road networks with sustainable infrastructure in mind.

At the individual level, there’s Carvey Ehren R. Maigue, a Filipino inventor who won the first James Dyson Award for Sustainability in 2020.

Mr. Maigue, who studied electrical engineering at Mapua University, found a way to convert a plastic-like material from rotting produce to create renewable energy. He is now working with a European car manufacturer and a ship builder in the Asia-Pacific to incorporate his invention for their windows and hulls, respectively. A partner company is also looking into integrating Mr. Maigue’s technology with the power systems of a building.

LGUs that aspire to be smart cities, Mr. Palafox added, need to understand what that definition also entails.

“A smart city has smart technology, but smart technology is only a tool for good governance,” he said. Cities that convert designated open spaces into concrete structures, and cities that have corruption embedded in their business processes, he pointed out, cannot be considered smart.

The United Nations says that by 2050,one in six people in the world will be over the age of 65. “Think about designing for your grandmother or grandfather. When designing a new product, ask: can they use it? That’s what we need to constantly reference,” said Mr. Priestman in a B-Side episode.

Aside from making room for the elderly, the post-pandemic world should also make room for the marginalized. People who live in cramped, poorly ventilated living spaces are more susceptible to infectious airborne diseases bedeviling the world now, like coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and tuberculosis.

As Dr. Marve Duka-Fernandez, who is coordinating a project in Tondo for Médecins Sans Frontières(Doctors Without Borders) said: “There are no two ways about it: they need to live in better housing! People left to live in such conditions will always be at high risk for recurring infections.

Mr. Palafox, for his part, talked about long-term vision by comparing the fate of blueprints in Dubai, where he worked as a 27-year-old senior architect and planner for the government of Dubai, and Manila.

“We were already designing the largest airport, the largest man-made harbor back in the late 1970s,” he said. “That’s why I call my plans in Dubai ‘snapshots to the future,’” because I knew (the leaders) would implement them.”

Plans for Manila, on the other hand, are “postcards from the future,” because of the uncertain timeline as to when — or if — they will be implemented. “I like paraphrasing Winston Churchill: we shape our environment, then our environment shapes us,” Mr. Palafox said.