This is not the first time cities stand at the forefront of fighting a pandemic due to high disease transmission risk. Wider streets, new sewage systems, and health requirements helped in making the city a much better and healthier place to live. The recent pandemic, however, made us realize that we have a long road ahead of us to create a living situation where the disease in the city can’t move freely.

It is estimated that in 2050 more than 68% of the world’s population will inhabit the city. They became centers of social life, spaces for interaction, commerce, and work. Their density, due to highrise construction, is unprecedented and continues to increase. The distribution of functions within the city that require long transit is giving opportunities to unnecessary human contact in tight spaces that encourages the spread of diseases. The development of the city for future prevention against the pandemic should focus on a much more localized strategy where it is possible to obtain everything you need within the 20-minute walking distance. Reduction of necessary travel to work, get groceries, etc., will hugely decrease the overcrowding in tubes and buses and encourage bike transport and walking.

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Copenhagen ©accesscities.org
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Dhaka, Bangladesh ©blogs.worldbank.org (Elena Karaban/World Bank)

An increase in green spaces is also crucial if we are to sustain a healthy lifestyle as well as release stress from the lockdown. People without immediate access to parks and nature are the ones most physically and mentally tired. Not all cities are equal, while Copenhagen, which is abundant in green spaces and cycling routes is much less vulnerable to transmission of diseases, cities such as Dhaka in Bangladesh have a much harder time adjusting to a pandemic world. There is also the importance of air corridors within the city that enable fresh air import into the city. The United Kingdom was unsure about its restrictions. They closed their parks in fear that they would help the disease spread and then opened them again.

When cities and technology evolved, they became more and more polluted and air stagnated. Arkadiusz Suder and Mariusz Szymanowski clarified that “Harmful compounds found in the air accumulate in large quantities in urban areas where human activity is intensified not only as of the result of enhanced emission of pollutants in these areas but as the effect of the strong surface drag in rough structures and limited effective dispersion of pollutants.”. 1 

Research in the creation of urban ventilation channels could help in keeping the city healthier and through that reduce the stress on our bodies. Warsaw was one of the cities, rebuilt after the II World War, which introduced ventilation channels into the city fabric.

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New Urban policies considering Pandemics around the world-The temporary bike lane on Smith Street in Downtown Brooklyn ©nyc.streetsblog.org (Gersh Kuntzman)
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New Urban policies considering Pandemics around the world-One of the new temporary bike lanes in Berlin ©theguardian.com (Annegret Hilse/Reuters)

There are also crucial changes that could be introduced on the streets in the city that could help with the prevention of pandemics. Distribution of handwashing stations would allow for better sanitary conditions of people living in the city and reduce the transmission of diseases. Development of cycle paths, widening of the pavements, and increase of pedestrian-only roots would help in promoting outdoor transportation as well as give more space to people which would reduce overcrowding. New York, Cologne and Calgary, and many others, in the recent COVID 19 pandemic, have been closing their streets to car movement to reduce density.

Oakland enabled access to 74 miles of its roads and streets to pedestrians and cyclists only. In Bogota in South America, a new 76km of temporary cycle routes were added to their existing 550km cycling lanes. Berlin decided to declare cycle service as essential and also created new impermanent routes for bikes. Milan reduced the speed limit to 30 kilometers per hour and widened the sidewalks to encourage pedestrian movement.

There is also a need to discuss the housing industry. Accordingly to Jo da Silva, a sustainable development director at ARUP, we should consider introducing more lifts and staircases to allow for the reduction of “pinch points” which are moments where the density of people and possibility of contact increases because they must use the same space. There should be an indoor ventilation system that ensures healthy airflow inside the house. Systems such as heat recovery ventilation, which are introduced in more expensive modern buildings, ensure inside-outside air circulation while minimizing heat loss and gain within your house or flat.

Healthy Building Movement will become even more popular and would try to ensure more natural light, courtyards, and rooftop terraces. Home offices could become a standard addition to any flat. With schools and work being organized online and held from home, many families had only one space where they could sit down with a computer. It created a stressful environment, where different Zoom calls and online learning happened at the same time in the same space.

Work sharing spaces could become more popular if they adapt to new pandemic requirements. Ventilation systems that constantly supply outdoor air, one-way circulation routes and separate enclosures for each desk could be considered. Moreover, there is a potential to create new pop-up outdoor working spaces in parks, within nature. As long as there is a bit of roof, access to wifi and electricity, new singular spaces for work could be replicated throughout the city and used whenever the weather allows for it.

New urban strategies, increased sanitary awareness, changes in housing, and working environment; all those aspects need to be considered and revised to ensure the development of a city, which can respond to the rise of pandemics in our world. Many cities created temporary solutions that help people live and reduce the spread of the disease, however, the most important will be how to make some of those changes permanent and create new ways in which our cities should develop.

References:

  1. Determination of Ventilation Channels In Urban Area: A Case Study of Wrocław (Poland), Arkadiusz Suder and Mariusz Szymanowski Published: 27 February 2013 (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00024-013-0659-9)
Author

A graduate from the Architectural Association with an interest in urban studies and public spaces that actively change and influence the neighbourhood. Her area of research focuses on the development of European metropolises and the way the architectural theory impacts their design.

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