At last, year 2020 is coming to an end. The year will be remembered for the devastation caused by the pandemic as millions of lives were lost and many suffered due to disruptions caused by the lockdown. It’s a year worth forgetting as each one of us was horrified at death and uncertainty staring at us day after day, despite restrictive and largely preventive measures taken by us.
But forgetting the year as bad one will leave every one of us with grave loss unless we are willing to learn some of the lessons the year has taught us the hard way. The pandemic led crisis has given the urban planners a huge source of insight though the findings may take time to review and adopt. Nevertheless, there are practical ways in which we can improve the planning and design of our cities.
Before the invasion of COVID-19, digitisation, especially in India was a fashionable word and was considered to be a luxury with elitist leaning. Also, digital transformation was largely a priority within individual sectors. The pandemic has proved the need for real-time, geo-located, publicly available information to city managers across all sectors. We should no longer consider the digitalisation of health, sanitation, transport, supply chains, and even labour practices a luxury meant for elite class. Digital strategies must embrace the provision of all public services in an interconnected way.
Digitisation is becoming important because increasingly our cities will combine physical facilities with virtual environments and services. Many developed countries have seen surge in use of digital networks during lockdown which has challenged the views on the speed and scale at which digital transformation can be delivered. According to available information, 5G networks are capable of giving us greater capacity and reliability. These networks should not only improve the accuracy and effectiveness of disaster response but will also underpin an ability to respond better and faster to all the changing social and economic needs of those who live and work in our cities.
Indian cities are marked by excess density of population. The increasing density of our cities have certain advantage while creating pressures on certain infrastructure facilities. Managing density will be a bigger problem when contagious disease like COVID-19 infect us. Effective information sharing becomes essential at these times.
In a post COVID-19 world, we have the opportunity and also a responsibility to give marginalised groups equal consideration in our planning as we reshape our communication networks and our wider cities.
Many of the public services essential to a city’s life are managed centrally by a single organisation. The surge in demand for those services caused by COVID-19 has exposed how painfully vulnerable such centralised organisations are at times of crisis. During this pandemic, severe disruption to supplies of personal protective equipment, initially, put many frontline health workers at risk in hospitals. Our urban planners need to learn the lessons this time and should make decentralisation an integral part of their planning.
The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly highlighted the shortcomings in our city planning and now we need to reassess the way we design our cities. No doubt cities are the social hubs (which will remain so in future too) but the crisis has also given us an opportunity to rethink the relationship between urban design and public health. The ability to assess and mitigate the effects that development has on health should become a new field of expertise, to help prepare cities to respond more rapidly and efficiently in future. If we are able to achieve that goal that would be the best way to say goodbye to 2020.