The current COVID-19 pandemic has radically transformed our lives around the world, and the challenge to overcome it might bring new opportunities to rethink our cities’ design. Can this crisis foster the development of a more sustainable future? How will our cities change after this pandemic?
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Transforming crisis into modern urbanism
Throughout history, mankind has overcome a list of pandemics and epidemics that lead civilizations to new discoveries and inventions, creating the modern urban system that we know today. For instance, without the cholera outbreaks in the 19th century, the need to carry wastewater safely downriver and away from drinking supplies (1) would never have been materialized into our modern sewerage system.
For the past few months, as a response to stop the rapid spread of coronavirus, people had to stay at home. This new change made us question how our lives might look after this pandemic.
Rethinking cities after the pandemic
According to Dr. Ramanath, a distinguished fellow of the Observer Research Foundation on urban sustainability and planning, city planners need to adjust their vision into this new reality by questioning possible scenarios after the pandemic. In this article, we look at some ways our cities will change and adapt to this new world.
1. More remote work and education
For many of us, the lockdown made us work and study from home. Once the pandemic is over, some people will go back to their offices and schools, and others may find an alternative because they were more efficient working and learning from home (2).
One of the possible scenarios is that people won’t need to live close to their workplace or school. This will enable employees and students to live further away from dense urban centers. This change in urban density will inevitably impact the cities design.
2. Planning for urban decentralization
As people move away from cities, it will be essential to make sure that everyone have access to essential services. Disaggregation won’t happen overnight but, thinking about the decentralization of essential services is necessary. This concept of relocating essential services was an important topic during the municipal campaign in the city of Paris. Anne Hildalgo recently appointed a deputy of a new kind, the deputy of “Le Paris du ¼ d’heure”. According to her, the quarter-hour city is “the city of proximity where you can find everything you need within 15 minutes of your home. This is the condition for the ecological transformation of the city, while improving the daily life of Parisians”. (4).
If cities want to ensure access to services, they would need to decentralise essential services.
3. Supporting green transportation
For several decades, private vehicles led to congestion and environmental pollution around the world. During this pandemic, as people stayed at home, the use of private motorized vehicles reduced. As the coronavirus pandemic swept across cities, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) satellites have seen significant decreases in air pollution (5). Furthermore, according to Lauri Myllyvirta, analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, an estimated 25% in carbon dioxide emissions nationwide has dropped after January 2020 in China.
Unfortunately, after the pandemic, many people are likely to view personal cars as safer than public transportation or shared options like bikes or scooters. According to David Zipper, visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, even when this pandemic is over, there will be a long time before people feel comfortable getting on a crowded train or bus. Nevertheless, personally owned bikes, scooters, and pedestrianization can still be an opportunity to enhance city affordability, accessibility, and sustainability (6), in a redesigned city with essential services and amenities close to each neighborhood.
4. The need for healthy neighborhoods
Expanding the city and providing essential services in each neighborhood means considering that all neighborhoods must be equal in terms of accessibility to housing, access to public services or transport. Moreover, the least-advantaged neighborhoods and their residents are those who suffer the most during an epidemic or a pandemic because of the lack of adequate healthy environments, proper house services, and access to medical care. The economic inequality segregation is not only unfair but, provides fertile ground for pandemics to take root and spread (2). Equal services in all cities are fundamental for safe and healthy citizens.
Photo: www.weforum.org | An empty Plaza de Catalunya in Barcelona during a partial lockdown of the city as part of the state of emergency to combat coronavirus. Image: REUTERS/Nacho Doce
The future of socialization is our main concern
Furthermore, the denial of physical interaction these past months has underscored the crucial social infrastructure that supports our well-being. Urban density provides some of our most cherished human encounters, in places like parks, coffee-shops, schools, sport fields, and concert halls, that contribute to our social connection, essential to feel part of a community.
There are still many questions about the future of our cities after the coronavirus pandemic: How will social distancing have a long-term impact on the way we work and study? Will it encourage a more decentralized city? Is this the answer to foster a more sustainable and livable city? What is the future of the way we socialize? How will cities be planned from now on? Still, it cannot be denied that public health crises create an opportunity to improve our cities and urban living.
- Shenker, Jack. The Guardian. Cities after coronavirus: how Covid-19 could radically alter urban life. March 26, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/life-after-coronavirus-pandemic-change-world.
- Florida, Richard and Pedigo, Steven. BROOKINGS. How our cities can reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic. March 24, 2020. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/24/how-our-cities-can-reopen-after-the-covid-19-pandemic/.
- Urban Planning by Le Corbusier According to Praxeological Knowledge. Dzwierzynska, Jolanta and Prokopska, Aleksandra. 2017, IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science.
- O’SULLIVAN, FEARGUS. CITY LAB. Paris Mayor: It’s Time for a ’15-Minute City’. February 18, 2020. https://www.citylab.com/environment/2020/02/paris-election-anne-hidalgo-city-planning-walks-stores-parks/606325/.
- Teale, Chris. SMART CITIES DIVE. COVID-19 may sport the thinnest silver lining: a cleaner climate. March 19, 2020. https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/coronavirus-impact-cities-climate-change-efforts/57445.
- JHA, RAMANATH. ORF: Observer Research Fundation. Post pandemic city planning. April 17, 2020. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/post-pandemic-city-planning-64777/.