“We shape our buildings and afterward, our buildings shape us,” ― Winston Churchill
The design of the built environment has a profound impact on human behavior. Therefore, poorly designed buildings and ad-hoc urbanization are resulting in making us more stressed and anxious. While the cities around the world were busy combating the challenges of climate change, food security, social, economic, and environmental sustainability, the recent hit of COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of people-centric design in creating livable cities.
History tells us that the medieval cities were being shaped by many epidemic outbreaks over time. Unfortunately, we needed another pandemic to point out the flaws in our urban built environment and its high time to fix the issues by focusing on upgrading the standard of living of the citizens in the post COVID world.
Qualities of a Livable city
Fundamentally the sustainability and livability indicators of a city are defined by resilient neighborhood, sustainable and accessible transportation, creative planning of land use and open spaces, access to green and robust public spaces, sustainable local economy, and affordability. Besides improving the spatial qualities, developing climate-responsive environmental policies, initiating programs to engage the community in placemaking, and developing an adaptable society are equally important in improving the standard of living.
Therefore, the following measures can be taken to address the urban issues and build back better cities after the pandemic:
Challenge of De Urbanization, Affordable housing and access to Basic Infrastructure
The cities are the creative and economic centers. But the recent ongoing transmission of COVID 19 can result in reverse urbanization due to the fear of density, shift to remote work, digitalization of services, and financial crisis. When the offices are losing interest to rent expensive office spaces in the cities, the employees are also thinking of moving out to pay less rent and enjoy more space and nature in the countryside. This de urbanization can result in a decrease in commercial real estate. Therefore, to keep the urban environment attractive, there is a need of promoting affordable housing with access to basic infrastructure and disease prevention measures, keeping the public health as the priority. Fair urban development policies need to be developed for efficient real estate, construction, and urban infrastructure markets. Rent subsidies and lower interest rates on home loans need to be considered to keep the urban population intact.
To avoid an increase in the number of private vehicles on road, and the overcrowding of the public transit after the pandemic, providing cycle sharing programs and dedicated cycle lanes are going to be inevitable. This strategy will be beneficial in uplifting the city life and will play a vital role in economic growth. In the long run, the cities will be less polluted, have safer vibrant streets and the people will enjoy urban life more outside their cars.
Rethinking street designing is going on worldwide. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s proposal for ‘15-minute city’ and already established ‘three miles long or less’ car trips in US cities are strengthening the mass transit by promoting micro-mobility options to the citizens.
Access to Green and vibrant Public Places
While people were becoming more physically distanced due to the over usage of virtual social media to interact, there was an increasing impulsive desire to congregate more to public places, important buildings, and travel destinations for Instagram worthy pictures. But during this lockdown, when people are forced to live and work in their homes, the overconsumption of technology is making them more anxious. This is resulting in depression, domestic violence, and relationship disorder; hence people are longing for experiencing the outside world.
Creating pocket parks, children play areas within the neighborhoods, and retrofitting the public places with social distancing, safety, and other hygienic measures is a crucial need to rejuvenate the urban lives. The concept of Living Streets to reclaim spaces for walking and cycling is becoming recognized worldwide and the civic buildings, retail outlets, and indoor markets are becoming equipped with temperature screenings and better spacing for social distancing. Moreover, making public places more inclusive by providing accessibility to the vulnerable sections as well can make the cities more graceful to live for both rich and poor. This way, hygienic measures can be maintained all over the cities and future infectious disease outbreaks can be controlled more efficiently.
As the cities are going to face severe budget deficits in development due to the pandemic, this bottom-up system is going to be crucial specifically in developing the informal settlements and undefined neighborhoods. A stronger sense of society can grow by participating in the process of placemaking and experiencing public life and public space from a different perspective.
Livability is contextual; therefore, diverse groups of stakeholders need to come together and define the indicators of quality of life in individual cities to improve further. Today’s situation can be considered as a chance for us to rethink our way of life, how we live, work, or interact in the city and to participate actively in improving the urban system.