We are all in the process of mobility. Going from home to school, back to the grocery shop, the gym, the mall… Our movement never ends! With days passing by and continually mutating, the way we think the mobility in our cities will eventually adapt. You guessed it, I am talking about the new coronavirus pandemic that completely transformed cities.
Mobility in the era of the pandemic
Cities are the primary component in the covid-19 chapter. In fact, they are the most populated places in the world with a density that will keep on growing (we expect that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050). Another critical aspect of the cities is their complex urbanization factors, which put together multiple variables to create a network. The third and most crucial element in the covid-19 case is the international and national connectivity.
In fact, this continuous flux of people has, obviously, many conveniences, but in critical situations, lockdown politics are primordial. In some sense, these politics aim to disassemble the complexity of the cities. The main objective is to focus on creating an improved health system and more suitable infrastructure for people to generate better human development in a resilient environment.
In other words, covid-19 allowed us to place some observations on the way the cities are created, formed, how do they respond to specific crises, events and to what extent their mechanisms can be useful. Once we understand the pillars and what activates them, we will seek innovative models and patterns that are more suitable to the evolution of the city throughout time.
Bicycles and Cities
The coronavirus outbreak made people more aware of their surroundings. We started seeing healthier habits like walking and cycling, like in Amsterdam, for instance, where cycling became a trend and a lifestyle.
Crisis offers new opportunities for cities. The coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on urban mobility and planning. In fact, lockdowns encouraged people to walk more and use bicycles. They started developing new ways of life, routines, which they would most likely want to keep post-covid-19. Between August 2019 and August 2020, the flow of bicycles augmented by 6.9%, which is a significant number in this automobile mobility.
To illustrate the pandemic’s impact on urban mobility, the Mayor of Turin Chiara Appendino stated, “Turin has a biciplan, which aims to raise the share of bike travel to 15% by 2023”. What accelerated this project is primarily the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, Turin has already planned 95 kilometers of new cycle paths.
This project gave birth to a new urban term, bike boxes: they are spaces in front of crossroads that allow bikers and scooters to position themselves in front of the stopped cars in lanes. This gives the priority in turning for the bike boxes users and doesn’t expose them to the exhaust gas.
We cannot mention the usage of free emission transportation methods without talking about its impact on air pollution. The lockdown and its implications for urban mobility allowed the improvement of environmental qualities. The world suffered from common major issues underlying our daily lives, like traffic emissions as significant pollution sources in urban areas. Regrettably, some of the covid-19 mortality cases were due to infections directly linked with air pollution. Indeed, long-term exposure to a polluted environment can increase human vulnerability facing pandemics.
The lockdown measures positively impacted pollutants such as PM2.5, PM10, CO2, NO2, SO2, and O3. The level of concentration has drastically decreased. The results show that travel restrictions have reduced the NO2 and CO (these pollutants are directly associated with transport) in most cases.
In March 2020, on average, hourly, the level of NO2 concentration in Madrid decreased by 62%, whereas in Barcelona, by 50% (compared with 2019). This proves that limiting automobile transportation can significantly impact air quality improvement: the NO2 levels have been reduced considerably before and during the lockdown in South Asia, which is a very populated and dense place.
The fifteen-minutes Paris
Creating a network of urban relationships while managing the city’s density is translated into a new concept that has been portrayed in Paris, called the “fifteen minutes city.” The main idea behind it is to provide all the necessary facilities (schools, clinics, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.) into a fifteen-minute walking perimeter.
This new schema encourages people to walk and be more active, but it promotes local production. Therefore, it boosts the economy. But it also enhances the efficiency by putting at your disposal all the needed functions of a city. Urban planning is taking new optics, forging its path into efficacy and optimization. This will encourage the development of a less centralized and more resilient urbanity.
What we can understand
Is that the world is mutating. It is seeking alternatives, but most importantly, efficiency. Humankind became more aware of the need to have a healthier lifestyle due to the old fashion mobility we used to have. People are more focused on human-made energy to move rather than CO2.
This is important because, in a way, the Covid-19 injected into the urban and architectural designs new parameters. Hence, making the whole network of conceptualization more complex yet more straightforward.