Coronavirus puts additional responsibility on town planners

Coronavirus puts additional responsibility on town planners

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Coronavirus is playing havoc with human lives in China and it is spreading to other parts of the world, including India. The number of casualties, according to official sources, is crossing four figure mark and it is proving to be more dangerous than SARS disease. The outbreak of the disease has shown how vulnerable human life is notwithstanding present-day technological advancement.

Having said that it should be remembered that it was the progress in artificial intelligence which helped to point out outbreak of virus much earlier than would have been possible using conventional techniques. A Canadian AI algorithm could detect, even with limited datasets, the coronavirus outbreak at least 9 days earlier than otherwise would have been possible. It shows the growing importance of data and artificial intelligence in creating and managing the cities. Benefits can be reaped to the fullest possible level if the smart city concept is implemented in its truest sense. Problems will arise only when we restrict ourselves to changing paver blocks, repainting the city walls, setting up SPVs with Smart City nomenclature, appointing a CEO, etc. – all in the name of smart city development.

Technology has advanced too far and we should know how to take advantage of it. AI and IOT are no longer a fashionable thing but are fast becoming necessities and the smart cities cannot survive without incorporating them. We need to find out ways and means of using the wealth of data generated and collected for public good. By using the AI tools more precise readings can be obtained through larger datasets by ensuring that protocols on data sharing are calibrated to remove all hurdles appertaining to sharing of information and for this, there is a need for standardization of protocols between smart city operators and device manufacturers.

As symbol of technological advancement we have also seen a 1,000 bed hospital built and made operational within ten days in China. Another1,300 bed hospital is in the making and that too in 15 days. This may be the case of putting aside architectural sustainability issues in favour of human survival to meet ultra-rapid surge in demand. It may also be true that rest of the world may need a lesson or two in new techniques in construction of buildings which can be profitably employed in case of natural calamities like flood and earthquake.

The catastrophe also highlights the pros and cons of centralised planning vs decentralised one. Decentralisation reduces excessive dependency on automobile (especially private vehicles) and also provides the community resilience. In case of decentralisation, smaller communities can function normally in such abnormal conditions even if they decide to disconnect from the larger city.

It also brings out the risks of unchecked growth of the cities. What should be the ideal size of a city (in terms of population) is a difficult thing to determine but not an impossible task. In future, the government should promote many smaller cities than a few mega cities which will help to manage better under such circumstances. Ideal size should be decided based on resources available.  In a democratic environment it may be easier said than done but going forward we may not have any other options.

Coronavirus has given a new dimension to our urban development challenge. All these years city planning was focusing on climate challenge and now the planners have to think from the eventualities like Coronavirus, a phenomenon which is happening quite frequently – SARS, MERS and now Coronavirus.

The pandemic also brings home the need for increased discussions between various stakeholders and expanding the health sphere to others. Discussions should include Architectural and Urban organisations, like the International Union of Architects (UIA), the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP), and others alongside big ICT corporations.

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