Safe Cities and their importance in the ‘New Normal’

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The COVID-19 crisis has brought all the major cities of the world at the frontline of charting out newer ways and means to deal with it. The cities are experiencing unprecedented strain – right from stressed out economies to overwhelmed healthcare systems. As the nations continue to fight against the pandemic, confining people to their homes, and changing the way the world moves, works and thinks, an question is lingering in everybody’s minds is… What life will look like in the ‘New Normal’, post-pandemic?

The COVID-19 is already posing one of the biggest challenges of all times, while the cities are struggling to provide even basic amenities like access to water and clean sewerage. Other issues being daily wagers suffering from lost income and scarcity of social safety, required most at times like these.

As we are strictly confined to our homes for a quarter now, the significance of basic amenities like building with more light and ventilation and resistance to natural calamities increases manifolds.

Right now, the world is witnessing lack of resilience in urban living with a profound impact on the poor.

Amidst all the fear and apprehension, we could now figure out how our future cities should look like. Right when cities are undergoing crisis management for recovery, the gaps in our urban infrastructure that have been exposed due to this crisis, will now translate into more resilience.

COVID-19 has extended the greatest opportunity to reconsider and restructure urban informal settlements. It could be seen as an opportunity for incorporating the element of ‘sustainability’ in cities by taking measures that could mitigate the risks arising from pandemics as these and also, in future, could be adapted to deal with other crisis and climate risks.

Are our cities prepared for the ‘new normal’?

After the pandemic ends and the’ new normal’ begin, citizens will now look for a safe cities that:

  • Enable infrastructure protection
  • Top-notch city surveillance
  • Excellent transport security management
  • Emergency centres
  • High-tech transportation and road information systems
  • Automatic vehicle locating system

Urban areas will have to be redesigned and planned to survive the effects of climate change and disasters. Architects will have to provide for more ventilation and natural light and reduce the use of air conditioners.

Any city planning should be inclusive with space for the poor, the vulnerable and the migrant sections who are subject to the maximum stress during crisis.

In the future, architects might find design solutions for buildings and societies that enable people to socialise without overcrowding restaurants, bars and clubs.

With WFH likely to become a norm in the future, people would prefer staying back in their home cities (many a times tier-2 or tier-3 cities). The urban developers must think about offering affordable residential options and a higher quality of life just as they were used to in metros.

Our cities are major contributors to the national economy, there is a need to maximise the economic potential of these urban clusters and other tier-1 and tier-2 towns. The aim is to promote local economic growth.

Tech-enabled health safety practices

The current health crisis has taught us to increase the intensification of digital infrastructure in our cities. Some cities have successfully contained the spread of the disease by just mapping infected persons’ movements. They have been using “big data” analysis to anticipate where transmission clusters will emerge next. These are much safer cities from the public health perspective and we can also leverage the power of such health surveillance in the new normal.

The safe and smart city of the future must include planning for infrastructure and housing for wellbeing and resilience for the poor living in urban regions, developing and improving infrastructure across the developing world to bridge the urban services divide and at the end planning an infrastructure that is geared towards a sustainable future.

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