Building resilient, sustainable and safe cities for a post-COVID-19 world

Author: Tan Ming Hui, RSIS

Around 55 per cent of the world’s inhabitants stay in cities and by 2050 that is anticipated to extend to 68 per cent, with most concentrated in growing international locations. Cities additionally generate greater than 80 per cent of global GDP. Yet COVID-19 has made cities appear much less engaging. Density and shared companies make social distancing difficult. Urban areas are among the many hardest hit by COVID-19 and the long-term affect stays unclear.

An aerial view of Chengdu Science City, Tianfu Jingrong Center, and Tianfu New Economy Industrial Park under the blue sky, beside Xinglong lake, Tianfu new district, Chengdu city, Sichuan province, China, 20 August 2020 (Photo: Reuters).

Cities additionally account for greater than 70 per cent of all carbon emissions. Most cities are vulnerable to at least one type of natural disaster and face local weather challenges, resembling air air pollution and heatwaves, on high of the associated health problems. The danger of floods in coastal cities has additionally elevated as a result of rising international sea ranges.

Cities proceed to face quite a few safety challenges and rising threats with many having been targets of terrorist assaults. The digitalisation of buildings and infrastructure additionally blurs the strains between the bodily and digital worlds. Increasing dependency on sensible applied sciences and interconnectivity is more likely to enhance cities’ vulnerability to cyber-attacks and privateness breaches. Emerging hybrid threats resembling bioterrorism additionally pose a severe danger.

COVID-19 presents cities with a possibility to use classes discovered from the disruptions and construct resilience towards future dangers. What would possibly a post-COVID-19 metropolis seem like? Ideally, it could be resilient, well-prepared to soak up and get better from stressors. Cities can construct resilience by designing plans and protocols to deal with their unique vulnerabilities.

Within native communities, resilience means cohesion and neighbourliness, the place folks assist each other throughout emergencies. Resilience will also be strengthened by means of native empowerment, capacity-building and community-driven projects that involve local decision-making and resource management. Active group engagement and open communication may also enhance public belief in authorities. In Vietnam, one issue contributing to its success in managing COVID-19 is public compliance with government guidelines — made attainable by efficient and clear messaging from public officers.

Tourism-dependent economies within the Asia Pacific have been hit arduous by COVID-19. Japan’s Go To Travel marketing campaign is an try to advertise home tourism to assist the sector’s restoration. Yet such concepts are much less relevant to smaller island economies. Instead, regional cooperation and help can assist the strengthening of social safety packages and encourage the diversification of local industries and workforce reskilling.

Cities are on the frontline of local weather change and ought to be sustainable. Cities have to urgently put money into inexperienced infrastructure. Developing extra inexperienced areas — resembling parks, trails and gardens — can cut back the chance of flooding. Sustainable cities ought to embrace flexibility in city design, taking potential disruptions into consideration. Infrastructure, buildings and public areas could be designed for a number of makes use of or to be repurposed rapidly throughout crises. Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park in Bangkok, for instance, is weak to flooding. Yet it serves as a group house when there’s sunshine and a water catchment space throughout the wet season.

Adopting zero-waste, circular economy frameworks by extracting the utmost worth from assets by means of reuse and recycling can be necessary. Repurposing and upgrading buildings ought to be prioritised over demolition, and building waste ought to be recycled the place attainable. In the developed world, many cities are transferring in the direction of clean electrification and smart energy grids to cut back carbon footprints and work in the direction of net-zero emissions. Yet this requires long-term investments that may not be financially viable for growing international locations. They ought to first handle primary infrastructure gaps and put money into renewable vitality infrastructure, which may additionally increase job creation and financial progress.

Reimagining city areas and mobility can discourage non-public automobiles in favour of strolling and non-motorised transport. There is rising curiosity in compact neighbourhoods. Melbourne, for instance, is planning ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’, the place important companies and cultural actions are at all times a brief stroll away. More distant working could cut back the necessity for workplace areas in favour of bigger, greener residing areas. It may also lower the frequency of commutes and site visitors quantity. Cities can develop into extra environment friendly at managing motion utilizing knowledge to foretell peak-hour congestion.

Post-COVID-19 cities must also be safe by design. In growing counter-terrorism measures, cities have to strike the precise steadiness between safety and liveability. There is potential for collaborative efforts between city planners, disaster specialists and safety specialists. For instance, to guard pedestrian areas from vehicle-ramming assaults, some cities adopted creative solutions resembling putting in artwork sculptures, raised planters and timber, water options, and benches to create aesthetic obstacles reasonably than barricading streets with unpleasant metallic limitations or concrete blocks.

Smart cities should prioritise investments in cyber security infrastructure. It is cheaper to embed safety into preliminary designs, reasonably than attempt to repair current programs later. Growing scepticism of technology-dependent city planning must also be addressed. Countries ought to put liveability on the forefront of city coverage. Technological developments, resembling in robotics and synthetic intelligence, could displace large numbers of workers. Urban inequality, unemployment and the rise of extremism fuelled by on-line disinformation and social isolation throughout lockdowns, might create circumstances for future social unrest. Psychological resilience of city dwellers stays necessary, and psychological defence ought to be promoted and strengthened.

Resilience, sustainability and safety by design, with out compromising liveability, are central themes that may improve cities’ preparedness to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. Still, cities all over the world face distinctive challenges, together with numerous inhabitants sizes and ranging geographical and financial circumstances. While there’s a lot to study from each other, policymakers and concrete planners should contemplate native nuances as they reimagine post-COVID-19 cities.

Tan Ming Hui is an Associate Research Fellow within the Policy Studies Group on the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

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