Post-COVID City Planning Will Be Very Different
Mitu Mathur, Director, GPM Architects and Planners
For several years, the AEC industry stakeholders have been looking and building upon the mediums to analyze and configure our cities’ layouts that best suit our environment, people, and built heritage. A few months into the pandemic and our formerly planned urban cities designed to meet our needs at the particular moment proved unfulfilling and fuelled contagion. The outcomes showed that mapping people’s movement would be a paramount factor in the successful functioning of our future cities — in extension, to improve health, well-being, and productivity.
The coronavirus shut down the engine of ideas and interactions that drive social dynamism and economic growth. The public health crisis put us on the defensive, and the healthcare spaces worldwide proved inadequate. Despite an overwhelming hope to reinvent the better and healthier society we once knew, the real story lies within the data — it predicts a different rather resilient future for our cities.
Therefore, expecting and executing the same design considerations to our cities post Covid-19 is preposterous. The contagion is a long-term or maybe an ever-present threat, and to transform the urban design and management accordingly is a salient question for architects and designers. Perhaps, the correct planning now refers to the means of designing a system that evolves with limits and steers a clear view of risks.
Mapping the pandemic preparedness
Our cities, vulnerable by nature and design, pose the biggest challenge for humanity. With the rising population expected to settle in urban agglomerations and spaces to be useful in emergencies; we cannot build spaces with a single function. Cities’ design and how they are inhabited often exacerbate the problem of infectious diseases. Hence, authorities must consider prevention besides just being crisis – ready.
Multi-functional urban districts: It’s the need of the hour to bridge the technical and regulatory gaps in city planning. The interdisciplinary approach between professionals such as architects, designers, engineers, logistics specialists, and security experts should establish guidelines that define best practices. The stakeholders’ collaboration must aim to rethink shared spaces, public or private, to make them controllable, manageable, and immediately re-purposed in an emergency.
Sustainable built environment: On a smaller scale, the principles of a resilient built environment include — contextuality through local materials usage, unifying diverse systems, combining smart energy systems, and environmentally responsive design that provides the scheme a low carbon footprint, ensuring safety, sensitivity and finally adaptability to change.
However, the post-COVID 19 approach anticipates a rapid shift in the future needs of users. The change determines planning possibilities to generate flexible, future-proof spaces. Architects and designers are venturing in adaptive reuse projects – a valid form of sustainability and energy saving. Perhaps, architecture can’t control the outcome. However, it can set the premises for chance encounters and social interactions. Thus, architecture and design nurturing tend to nurture community-building and determine the fabric of our social culture.
Strengthening Digital Infrastructure: It is ironic that the vital data we produce helped the government analyze and predict the virus’s spread and mitigate the impact. On a similar note, the social, economic, and political changes that seemed unfathomable a few months ago, we
routinely turned over to our homes that became our offices, schools, and what not! We haven’t been more connected now than ever.
However, a post-coronavirus approach would require a network that offers access to more than e-commerce websites, zoom meetings, and or streaming videos. The situation calls for management systems such as remote patient monitoring or free health checks considered by several countries globally. Moreover, a system accessible to all that fills the socio-economic gap exacerbated by COVID 19.
Whereas on the urban planning and design front, the AEC industry needs a network at the same level of digitization as any other industry. We have shied away from strengthening our digital infrastructure or perhaps the tools that promote advanced technology.
Adapting to disruptive cloud computing technology such as Building Information Management System (BIM) will enable real-time collaboration. BIM can prove to be a significant game-changer on various planning stages. The planning stages involve operations and maintenance, mapping energy efficiency, building life cycle management, and even tapping workers’ well-being on-site and employees at the workplace.
The global pandemic’s initial hit popped up several stories of people cooped in crowded cities. Some people escaped to their beach-side homes or their parent’s house for more space and sprawling yards. Concerned about their future, the rest negotiated a socially distant few square meters in public. The foreseeable result is discrimination, marginalization, and growing distrust of government.
The decade has questioned how transformations in our built environment, social behavior, and the ever-changing economy will impact our cities, and “2020” is officially the year to introspect the way we have been thriving. While it is too early to say what the post-COVID 19 normal will look like, it is imperative to treat the pandemic as an opportunity to catalyze positive change in our environment.