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Make most of the post pandemic opportunity

Now the city planners will have double challenge – to design city to combat pandemic like Covid-19 and also climate change. Healthcare had neve been a factor, at least in India, in the city planning and urban design. But that cannot be the case in future and the lessons we learnt during the last one year will have to be operationalised in the coming years to ensure that our past mistakes are not repeated.

Though major portion of the total global population lives in urban areas (and this ratio is expected grow further in coming years due to fast paced urbanisation in countries like India) cities account for only 3% of the total earth surface. While in the coming years size of the population living in cities is going to grow, available land for cities will remain the same. Thus, density of population in cities will go up further in the coming years with all its resultant side effects. This will make the designing of future urban areas even more difficult.

According to some research studies, urban areas to be 4.4°C (7.9°F) warmer by 2100 assuming a high volume of greenhouse gas emissions, and 1.9°C (3.4°F) warmer with mid-level emissions. Some experts paint a grim picture and expect the temperature to deteriorate further. In addition to being uncomfortable, that increased urban heat causes all kinds of problems. Apart from causing diseases heat waves can be deadly too. In India, we see many deaths due to heat waves every year.

Rapid increase in population, building of concrete jungle and other infrastructure facilities in the cities will invariably create heat island in cities. Vehicular traffic and buildings are the main sources of GHG emissions in cities and unless we take some drastic steps and that too immediately, we will be leaving a hot oven for the future generation to live on. Switching over to electric vehicles will definitely help us to reduce the GHG in cities and that transition (to EVs) should happen fast with clearly defined deadlines. Present situation, where people are slowly recovering from the pandemic shock, is ideal one to make a beginning, at least.

Researches also show that urban humidity will fall (along with rising temperature) in most places thus providing us with an invaluable solution too. Remember, moisture released by trees and other vegetation has a greater local cooling effect in arid environments, meaning that building out more green spaces could be an effective solution to rising urban temperatures.

All said and done Covid-19 has sparked a new awareness of our surroundings and placed greater emphasis on the health and safety of the places we gather – from office buildings to schools to stores, restaurants, sports venues and beyond. What surrounds us matters; the things we touch and the air we breathe all matter. We should not allow this new found awareness to fritter away just like that and use it as an opportunity to better the quality of life in our cities. Time has come for cities in different parts of the world to team up with sister cities and share best practices, concepts and ideas and fight unitedly against two evils haunting us – climate change and any deadly pandemic in future.

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