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A global view of design and urban planning post-COVID-19 (Part 4): How will cities change?

May 04, 2020

How can we redesign cities to fight future pandemics? Global leaders share their thoughts.

We asked an international panel of our experts to weigh in on several topics focused on the impact of COVID-19 on urban planning and design around the globe. This is the fourth in a four-part series featuring their answers.

Today’s question: How can we redesign cities to fight future pandemics? Thinking in time frames: short term, midterm, and long term.

Gwen Morgan—Plano, Texas, USA

Short term: Projects currently under design or about to be designed should consider how to build in additional flexibility, keeping in mind options for temporary reuse of space and design to maximize cleanliness.

Plano, Texas

Midterm: Plan for and design cities that are resilient and able to respond to unexpected natural forces such as hurricanes or flooding, as well as pandemics. A good example of this type of thinking is the work accomplished as part of the Stantec-hosted Houston Resiliency Workshop, inspired by the AIA Houston 2020 Visions

Long term: Perhaps we could maintain our reserved use of resources and see long-term improvements in air quality, biodiversity, and the overall environment for our planet!

The best way to overcome pandemic is to build economically resilient cities and socially healthy communities.

Auckland, New Zealand

Tom Young—Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Short term: As restrictions ease, there will be some significant snapback to old patterns, but hopefully pop-up infrastructure will help retain some of the more sustainable and active patterns that this lockdown has fostered. I would certainly hope that, as with this widespread experience with eWorking, many minds will have been opened to the possibility (and benefits) of doing things differently. Anything we can do to lock in some of those positive behavioral shifts before the memory of this different way of living fades, the better. 

Midterm: The pandemic seems unlikely to cause a revolution in these conditions. But I suspect there will be opportunities to reassess the shortcomings of how we build our cities in the post-COVID period, and that might result in some very positive evolution of urban form. 

Long term: I’m a bit skeptical that we will see a significant shift towards medium density in cities where the history has been for low densities with regenerating pockets of high density such as in urban cores. 

Keith Mitchell, Scott Witchalls—Reading, United Kingdom

Short term: Set up coalition for clean growth and change; promote investment in digital access and communications; establish cross-sector governance protocols; make better use of data through smart cities and digital twins; design in production capable facilities to produce, stockpile, and maintain essential equipment; design emergency access routes and logistics plans; and design places with the required infrastructure on-site, reducing the need to travel.

Midterm: Reassess the way we model our economies and successful communities from a social value and climate perspective, to design in use of autonomy and robotics (transport, production, construction). 

Long term: Integrated design with digital twin systems architecture that has been resilience tested through artificial intelligence—we already do this with weather and climate forecasting, so it’s not beyond possibility, but we need to start building data engines now. Fully autonomous production and connectivity, 3D printed materials, scalable urban agriculture, digitally reprogrammable buildings and spaces.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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