The coronavirus outbreak has brought in a significant change in how we perceive our lifestyles and live it. Experts involved in designing cities are now thinking differently about urban design in the future.
Beginning with the development of modern cities during the Industrial Revolution, pollution became a common term. With the rapid growth of cities such as London and New York, infections flourished.
Cities became a hotbed of outbreaks such as typhoid and cholera. These major public health issues led to the construction of entire new sanitation systems known as ‘sewers.’ But modern cities weren’t designed to deal with pandemics.
Modern cities went on prospering with urbanization and technology innovations. And then arrived in the 21st century that witnessed fatal infections through Ebola, bird flu, Mers, Sarz, swine flu, and now COVID-19. Have we entered an era of pandemics?
Whether it’s a yes or no we need pandemic-proof cities for tomorrow. Just as we need green and sustainable cities. We need to transform our existing cities, smart cities and those coming in the future.
Smart cities around the world are already developing with climate change, environmental threats and pollution in mind. But going ahead, they also need to focus on making cities that are resilient to pandemics.
Next what you read will take you through the efforts being made by cities to successfully deal with pandemics. Or, perhaps, prevent such situations completely.
Therapeutic gardens are simply those public spaces where both your body and mind can relax and rejuvenate. Unlike any lush green parks, therapeutic gardens are built by implementing design principles from scientific evidence.
While also fulfilling their social needs, citizens can achieve health benefits. Some of these include reducing stress, relief from mental fatigue, and overall emotional well-being. The smart city of Singapore has been building such therapeutic gardens since 2016. One of the most recent additions is Choa Chu Kang Park introduced on 7 July 2018.
The park is located beside Community-In-Bloom Garden and Allotment Garden which enhances the social connection to gardening communities in the area. The park features edible and fragrant plants, soothing water features for the restorative effects on the body and mind.
Moreover, It is made wheel-chair friendly. Back in 2017, the city-state built Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park near pond gardens. This place is divided into four zones. These include Fragrance zone, Edibles and Medicinal Zone, Biodiversity zone, and Texture zone.
Researchers have connected a link between long-term exposure to PM2.5 air pollution and a higher death rate from COVID-19. Much of this worsening situation is due to diesel cars.
And predictions also suggest that an increase in air pollution would exacerbate any future respiratory pandemic. According to experts, densely populated cities are under increased threats.
For instance, New York is the most densely populated city in the US. Even with big green spaces like Central Park in Manhattan, residents struggled to maintain social distancing during the spread.
Hence, some experts suggest shutting down city streets for walkers and cyclists. Just as Tel Aviv did. The city of Israel converted 11 sections of road into pedestrian malls. These sections of the road are closed to vehicle traffic for an unlimited period. During this time, the city will keep track of the changes in the environment.
According to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, the city is paving dozens of kilometres of new bicycle paths, light rail lines, and extending public transportation. It is also focusing on improving shades and renovating dozens of kilometres of footways.
In 2019, the city converted Lewinsky Street into a pedestrian zone and shut Sheinkin Street to vehicle traffic on Fridays. And the latest pedestrian malls will further join these streets to make it an urban success. Later, smaller streets and alleys will also be turned into pedestrian malls.
The changes will come into effect step by step over the coming months as per a set of municipal guidelines. Like, cars will be allowed to drive through the intersecting streets. Cyclists will be allowed to ride in the pedestrian areas.
And cafes and bars will be allowed to arrange tables and chairs out on the streets. The initiative taken for eateries is actually being done to boost their customer base after a temporary shutdown during the lockdown.
Such initiatives are being forged by the city much before the outbreak in order to clean the city. But eventually, these efforts are coming to light in the wake of COVID-19. And they are addressing both pollution and population density.
According to the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health’s McCay, sanitisation is a crucial part of reducing the infection. For example, you are being in a park with no way to keep your hands clean. This could be a concern. Hence, McCay, recommends installing handwashing stations in every city.
Steve Burn, director of the departments of Central Receiving installed unique sanitization stations in Colorado State University (CSU). He used creativity, expertise, and professional connections to secure and circulate over 900 stations across the university campus.
The unique stations were Burn’s brainchild. He came up with some ideas and finalised design with a local fabricator. They received a prototype of exactly what they needed. The cost was 25% less than any other product available online.
The sanitisation stations are powder-coated, with the colours green and gold of CSU. Each one has a unique QR code that can be scanned to report if supplies need to be refilled. Burn and his team installed the stations both indoors and outdoors of the premises. Similar initiatives must be taken in public places like parks.
All In One Neighbourhood
Some experts suggest that smart cities may need to be localised and made self-sufficient. The cities of the future must be localised not just in terms of food supply but also for other daily amenities. These include shopping to healthcare and public space for exercise.
There are already many examples of urban farming feeding millions when the choices are limited. One of the best examples is the self-sufficient food system in Cuba. The food crisis led the country to become self-sufficient with thousands of people growing their own food.
A large-scale implementation as such may be a huge challenge. However, cities can have their own self-sufficient neighbourhoods with everything available in a 20-minute walk. Instead of building grand city plans, it is essential to provide according to the needs of people. After all, the lives of the people are always connected through neighbourhoods – and not the entire city.
Like for example, Tokyo has implemented the process of ‘machizukuri’ which means “town-planning.” The process targets empowering citizens to collaborate with urban designers to improve their local neighbourhoods.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government supports the efforts that promote local identity and improve living at the community level. Seeing each neighbourhood as an individual character enables opportunity and belongingness. And this is essential to mental well being.
Researchers at the Senseable City Lab at MIIT installed sensors into sewers to detect concentrations of harmful bacteria and illegal drugs. Hence, a smart city wrapped in a pandemic-proof jacket would also need such data mapping.
Estimates show that 68% of the global population will live in cities by 2050. Therefore, the need to design cities with resilience from pandemic will get more pressing.