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This Urban Planner Rode Her Bike to Metro Manila’s 17 Cities in 15 Days. Here’s What She Learned About Solving Pain Points

Julia Nebrija let the cities reveal themselves and learned to appreciate the imperfections

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BY Pauline Mendoza - 27 Dec 2017

This Urban Planner Rode Her Bike to Metro Manila’s 17 Cities in 15 Days. Here’s What She Learned About Solving Pain Points

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The start-up communities, mostly found in the metro, are all about identifying pain points, solving problems, and looking for that next big idea that can disrupt and change the world.

Urban planner Julia Nebrija kept on thinking about the problems people faced in the city, particularly in Metro Manila where she resides.

“It was amazing that a friend of mine, said, why don’t you get off of your computer, go out, and do something real,” Nebrija shares in her TEDxLegaspiVillageWomen talk, the first-ever TEDxWomen event in the Philippines which happened in November.

With that, she decided to do an urban design process wherein the urban planner would go on an unplanned journey to an urban landscape as a mere observer.

She threw a few things in her backpack, took her bike, and began her journey.

She found herself on the side of train tracks, in a pop-up cockpit. She slept in motels with her bike. She slept in the homes of people she barely knew and discovered what they loved about where they lived. She got to eat at places just outside of prison. She loitered around neighborhood parks and saw churches she never knew existed in Metro Manila. In fifteen days, she completed all seventeen cities.

Here are some lessons about solving problems that she learned along the way:

1. Find the right pace

In the cities, Nebrija started to see patterns she hasn’t noticed before. The carinderia (eatery) is not just a place to eat, but it is also what lights up the dark corner of the street. The basketball courts found in almost every community are not only for sports, but they are also where people celebrate birthdays and graduation parties.

“So the way the city moves, if you take that speed of the bicycle, you really notice a lot more of who’s using the city,” she says.

Solving problems is about immersing oneself with the people who experience the pain points. Better not speed up, and instead just go with the pace. The first step to solving problems is understanding them on a deep, personal level.

2. Embrace reality

“In the end, I think, I also valued the city in a new way, it taught me to see all these special attributes in Metro Manila that we haven’t really considered,” she says, as some tend to find the imperfections of cities without appreciating the underlying beauty in the crevices. “I left that trip with an immense appreciation that I didn’t have before and even if it was not perfect, we only have one Metro Manila.”

No matter the industry, one cannot solve a problem without accepting and being grounded in reality.

“It’s important that we know what’s special about our cities. Because the way we see our cities influences the kind of city we want to build for the future,” she says. “And if we have that low self-esteem about where we live, we tend to look at it as to what we want to fix as opposed to looking at it as a series of opportunities — how are we going to maximize it, the potential of where we live.”

3. Share experiences, collaborate

Nebrija encourages others to build bridges between people and places. She usually takes people for a walk, sharing what she loves about the city she lives in. She has done inclusive mobility networking where there are mapping exercises with different groups of people to learn about their experiences in various transport or mobility issues.

She says, “We can’t do anything on our own, our city is probably our biggest form of collaboration — lots of ideas, perspectives, thoughts, desires, wishes — and the more collaboration you build, the better outcome that we are going to have.”

Through participation, people can develop a sense of optimism that they can solve the collective pain points in their communities

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