Pedal power, self-contained city enclaves and urban agriculture are some ways to build resilience into urban planning for future pandemics.

At the time of this writing, the recently elected President of the Philippines had been diagnosed as COVID-positive after an antigen rapid test. In his inaugural address, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr had stated that there were “shortcomings” in the previous government’s pandemic response.

To be fair, credit has to be given to agencies such as the Philippine Department of Health for launching telemedicine services and upgrading a good number of health facilities during the pandemic. However, the planning and distribution of financial assistance has been criticized by people: many just gave up trying to find a livelihood and kept expecting that assistance. 

Now that pandemic restrictions have been eased, and the elusive financial assistance measures have been pared down to just fuel subsidies to public transport drivers, how will the new head of state address the shortcomings he alluded to?  

With the lessons learned, what must countries do to become pandemic-proof and resilient?

China shows the way
As to the question of how President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr can fix pandemic-management shortcomings, he may find answers if he takes up China’s invitation to visit the country’s US$500bn coronavirus-proof city.

The city called Xiong’an is a potential business hub with an extensive 5G backbone connecting cutting-edge tech firms envisioned to rival those of California’s Silicon Valley. Buildings in the city will be self-sufficient, containing amenities and residences such as offices, swimming pools, shops, food markets, kindergartens and administrative centers to limit any necessity to commute.

Apartment blocks will all feature balconies “to allow access to the outdoors” and also the opportunity to grow their own vegetables: According to Vicente Guallart, founder of Guallart Architects: “If homes allow tele-work and tele-education, have flexible spaces on large terraces, and cities can grow food on the roofs or print objects in their neighborhoods, we will be more prepared for the crises of the future.”

Pedal power
Inevitably, even in a city planned to accommodate work-from-home policies, there will be a necessity to commute. In Manila at least, travel restrictions constituted some of the most crippling pandemic-control measures: Social distancing marked by the arbitrary “one meter apart rule” had led to drastic reductions in commutes, causing many transport firms to topple over.

Even as the worst of the current pandemic is over, rising fuel costs may yet spell the end of businesses that survived. How does a city lessen its reliance on fossil fuel?

It has been reported that in China’s capital city, Beijing, the use of bicycles increased by 150% when people were restricted in the use of private vehicles. Adhering to the goals of sustainability is encouraging bicycle use. When basic amenities in a city are located in a central area, the use of bicycles also circumvents restrictions in vehicle usage, such as in Shanghai.

In a large urban area such as Tokyo, using bicycles as a sole means of transport is unrealistic. Instead, commuters can make use of cycling stations to facilitate that last mile in their journeys in-between rail rides. This use of bicycles has been cited in pandemic-resilient urban planning and community planning reports.

In the Philippines, the new President has committed to completing the Manila Bike Lane Network with the view to increasing the people’s confidence in using bicycles as their preferred mode of transportation. A 313km Metropolitan Area Bike Lane Network that covers 67 roads in Metro Manila already exists, while the 29km Metro Cebu Bike Lanes and 54.7km Metro Davao Bike Lanes have been launched in other parts of the country.

When the next pandemic strikes, will Asia Pacific cities – from Sydney to Singapore to Seoul, from Manila to Mumbai, or from Beijing to Bangkok to Brunei – be more ready? Only time can tell…