Pandemics pose urban planning problems

COVID-19 could impact how cities are designed. Urban density, the decentralization of essential services, data aggregation and the digital response all come into play.

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is part of a long list of infectious diseases that could impact urban spaces. The virus puts a fundamental challenge to how we manage urbanization, according to an article on citylab.com, which was written by Michele Acuto, professor of global urban politics at the University of Melbourne.

Rethinking density management is a key for long-term survival in a pandemic world, writes Acuto. However, he says, “if you spread the city rather than densify, public transport would need to be better connected”.

There is also the question of the decentralization of essential services. Singapore had to shut down its main hospitals during the SARS outbreak. Many countries such as Italy are now considering door-to-door testing for COVID-19. “But we need to also rethink the ways, perhaps digital ones, we test and contain,” says Acuto.

Aggregrating urban data from different sources will be equally important. Acuto cites the example of Johns Hopkins’s CSSE aggregator of information, which takes data from sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

“One thing I’ve barely heard talked about is the digital response here,” continues Acuto. “People are making daily decisions based on the whole digital infrastructure. I come from an hour from the “red zone” in Italy, and family and friends make a lot of decisions based on digital connectivity information.” He concludes that digital infrastructure might be the sanitation of our time.

Image credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

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