Roles of Planners During Pandemic and Future of Urban Life

COVID-19 pandemic has obvious to disrupt the global scale with grounded flights, required isolation for travellers, and closed borders. More will need to be done internationally to try to stop diseases crossing from animals to humans a task that is compounded by climate change altering habitats and people moving into previously unsettled areas. But in this article, I want to examine 3 smaller scales and the built environment.

In the context of COVID-19, many people have questioned the future of urban life. This is a bit premature. The metropolitan areas are quite varied in density and character; they range from leafy suburbs to apartment buildings in the core city. It is also important to distinguish between high population densities and crowding. Singapore has so far avoided the worst of the pandemic with widespread testing, isolation, and clear communication.

Italy, where the COVID-19 suppression is in full force, shows the social solidarity possible in higher density areas like people singing from their balconies. COVID-19 is emptying out public transportation in many places, but transportation is already in a transition period due to automation.

Planners During Pandemic - Roles of Planners During Pandemic and Future of Urban Life

The key health crisis from COVID-19 is likely to appear in more crowded settlements without adequate water supplies and sanitation in both urban and rural settings but these have been a focus of public health concern for a long time. While cities will not be eliminated, a long period of suppression may well change patterns of urban life.

Effects of COVID-19 on the Neighbourhoods

With more people working at home, and more deliveries, the neighbourhood can provide support, challenge, and delight: support for healthy activities; challenges to stimulate oneself both physically and mentally; and delight in a time of stress. For all except the strictest suppression approaches, people can get out and about for exercise and errands, while still keeping social distance.

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With the gyms closed, meetings going online, and grocery stores limiting numbers of visitors, the outdoors is all the more important. Of course, this assumes people retain their housing as economic conditions worsen also a key planning and design concern. People will be home a lot with more family members in the same place at the same time.

This is not the case for everyone health professionals, delivery workers, people caring for physical infrastructure, those cleaning and maintaining essential facilities may be out quite a bit. But for most people, homes also need to provide support, challenge, and delight to maintain physical and mental health. Not all homes are healthy. For example, poor indoor air quality caused by mould or poor ventilation is a substantial health hazard.

Physical activity can be carried out indoors but may involve changing behavioural patterns. This is surely a design issue, and again one more critical for those with fewer resources. More than ever, access to the internet, as well as to physical public spaces, are key planning, design, and health concerns.

Emerging Urban Planning professions core interest in infectious diseases

Building regulations and sanitation systems were common responses. The infectious diseases are certainly a top concern again today; they are also a continuing issue in places where low incomes lead to crowding, lack of sanitation, and the like. For the past decades, however, those looking at the intersections of planning and public health have focused less on infectious diseases and on 3 areas.

  • Chronic disease
  • Hazards and disasters
  • The vulnerable

For chronic diseases: those lasting a year or more the environment can provide options for healthy behaviours such as physical activity or mental restoration.
For hazards: such as climate change planners and designers need to address flooding, droughts, and climate-led migration.
For the vulnerable: the environment needs to focus on those who are old, young, have preexisting conditions, or have low incomes. The current pandemic brings the question of designing for infectious diseases back to the forefront, however, and raises important questions for future research and practice.

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Culled from Harvard University Graduate School of Design Website | What role do planning and design play in a pandemic? Ann Forsyth reflects on COVID-19’s impact on the future of urban life

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