Julia Nebrija, Urban Planner

Julia Nebrija

urban planner
Manila, Philippines


Julia is Filipino-American urban planner who is passionate about people-friendly cities. She is the Chair of the Inclusive Mobility Network, an organization working to re-shape the metro’s transport system to benefit all, and the Executive Director of Viva Manila, an arts and cultural initiative to revive old neighborhoods. Through both she gets to do what she loves most —bike around the city and build creative communities!

Chat with Julia about biking, sustainability, inclusive mobility,and how to keep fresh while on the road!

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How long have you been biking? 
I started biking when I was a kid. I’ve always associated it with a sense of freedom. Biking to school, to a friend’s house, to my dance class or softball game, I didn’t have to depend on my parents or the bus for transportation. Later when I lived in Washington, DC and New York City, I would use my bicycle as a cheap, fast way to get around, but I never used my bicycle as often as I do now living in Manila, which is surprising to most people.  


How did you start biking as a form of regular city transit? 
I didn’t imagine it would be possible to use a bicycle as a primary form of transportation in Manila. When I first moved here, I was intimidated to try it because of the traffic, pollution, and lack of road rules. I joined Manila Fixed Gear and my friend helped me buy a used bike. I learned the routes and gained the confidence during the group rides to try commuting on my own. Turns out that Metro Manila is actually an ideal city for biking. The roads are flat, there are short distances between places of interest, and aside from the main thoroughfares traffic is slow moving. Although cars, buses, and jeeps are the kings of the road right now, there are so many types of vehicles on the road and so much activity happening along the streets, I find that people are generally aware of what’s going on around them; I don’t feel totally ignored on a bicycle.  
What has been your most memorable moment so far? 
In February of 2016, I biked all 17 LGUs (Local Government Units; how municipalities are organized in the city) of Metro Manila. I realized during that trip how many people are already biking in the city. Especially when you get out of the CBDs (Central Business Districts), into the barangays (“barrios,” villages), most households have a bicycle which is used to go to the palengke (wet market), basketball court, to transport goods, for vending or to bring children to school. I met security guards and construction workers who use bicycles daily to get from their homes in Laguna or Antipolo to their jobs in Taguig or Makati. The recreational bikers and organized bike groups in the city are very visible, but there’s a whole undocumented sector of the population that uses bicycles as their main form of transportation. It makes sense; there’s no gas or parking fees. Bicycles are a great equalizer and that’s what motivates me to push for a city where using a bicycle is not a statement but an enjoyable, effective way to move around. 

To do that we need to work on making roads safer for people who bike, through protected bike lanes, better education for all road users, and better infrastructure such as bike racks and street lighting. It’s really difficult to bike in the rain and I’m still not sure the best way to go about that other than wearing protective gear. To address the pollution we need to focus on enforcing the Clean Air Act. We can combat the heat with more tree plantings along roads to provide shade. 

What’s your favorite VMV Product? 
I use Armada Sunscreen daily to make sure I’m protecting my skin. The sunscreen also creates a layer between my skin and the pollutants which otherwise clog my pores and even give me skin rashes. I have a lot of allergies to pollution; after my showers I use the Essence Skin-Saving Hand + Body Smoother lotion keep my skin healthy from the daily stresses of being out in the polluted environment. 
Do you have any tips for people out there who want to be more responsible commuters? 
People commonly ask me how I keep “fresh” while biking, especially to work or social events. I try to wear clothes that are made of breathable materials and dark colors to prevent sweat marks. I sometimes wear a tank top while biking and then change into a dress shirt once I arrive at my destination. I also carry either towelettes or a small bottle of liquid soap to wash my face. I apply make-up after arriving. It also helps to carry a spray of some sort, like a perfume. I keep a travel-sized container of sunscreen to reapply when I have multiple destinations. It’s great when someone compliments me on my appearance and is then shocked to find out I arrived by foot or bicycle. 
 You feel best when…. 
I want to show that sustainable transportation is not just good for the environment and for the city, but for our own well-being and self-esteem. I feel empowered when I can move myself on foot or on a bicycle in a way that I cannot sitting in a car in traffic. I feel healthy, happy, and productive when I’m in control of my own movement — what’s more attractive than that?


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