Urban displacement is the movement of people displaced by issues such as natural hazards in search of better quality of life and job opportunities. This has led to an increase in the density of cities which become hot spots for the spread of contagions. Treating all classes of the society equally by providing pandemic resilient urban spaces may be the solution for the
rapid proliferation of the Covid-19 pandemic in dense urban areas. The Covid-19 pandemic has called for designers to rethink the design of urban spaces.
A question arises: what if urban spaces could be pandemic resilient and reduce the spread of future pandemics? The future urban spaces should be pandemic resilient by redesign of urban infrastructure, urban densities and public spaces. The responsibility to manage the pandemic should not be viewed as the responsibility of the government and healthcare workers but also the urban designers. The necessity to redesign urban spaces must not be ignored as the current cities with high interconnectivity has offered an ideal environment for the spread of the virus. This can be seen as the frequency of pandemics has increased in the 21st century (Melone and Borge, 2020). The future urban spaces must take into account the needs of people from all classes in society in an attempt to deal with urban displacement. Displacement to urban areas contributes to the proliferation of informal settlements and puts pressure on land in peri urban areas if there is limited affordable housing stock (IDMC, 2018). These areas became hot spots during pandemics and must be redesigned to curb the spread of infectious diseases. Hence, the feat of redesigning urban spaces is necessary to create pandemic resilient cities and provide a better quality of life.
Cities must learn from the way pandemics such as cholera were managed in historic times; London’s pioneering sewer system, which still stands, was constructed as a result of the understanding that clean water and better sanitation can stop the spread of cholera. Besides an efficient sewerage system, cities also recognised the importance of decongesting residential areas and creating green spaces. Parks became a mainstay of urban design. The urban dwellers also recognised the need to reduce urban density and create vegetated spaces for social interaction (Puliyel, 2020).
The urban spaces should look beyond preventing the spread of pandemics to assisting the recovery of Covid-19 patients. The introduction of green spaces on balconies, roof terraces, patios and outdoor dining areas will encourage exercise and act as a catalyst for the speedy recovery of Covid-19 patients (Puliyel, 2020).
As a macro-level response to the pandemic, World Health Organization (WHO) has mandated for urban spaces to be instilled with larger spaces for cyclists and pedestrians especially in densely occupied areas in an attempt to reduce reliance on public transport and private vehicles (Barbarossa, 2020). In fact, this strategy was discussed before the pandemic in an attempt to reduce pollution associated with transportation. Sustainable mobility reduces greenhouse gases emissions, reduces divisions in communities, and improves the health of the community through exercise while maintaining the social distancing norms mandated by the government. In Indian cities as an effort to enforce social distancing; sidewalks leading to shops have been marked with yellow circles a meter and a half apart (Roses at al, 2020). The most effective strategies for cities design are:
(1) Removing motor traffic from residential streets and extending pavements near shops, schools and parks to make walking safe and enjoyable for transit and exercise;
2) Establishing safe cycling routes to and from schools, offices, and close to main roads, by closing down roads and carriageways where necessary, so that people can have a safer
alternative to private cars and public transport;
(3) Creating safe access routes on foot and bike as well as safe public spaces and green areas at the neighborhood scale, closing roads and squares to motorized traffic (Barbarossa, 2020).
We foresee a greater demand for smaller green spaces or neighborhood parks that serve as places of refuge from the louder and bustling city. These places of refuge might be preferred whether or not they are green or grey, a small park or an alley. The width of running trails and paths might be widened and new expectations regarding social distancing may have to be met to allow exercise within green spaces. We also might need new or expanded exercise infrastructure given that existing green spaces may not be able to absorb the influx of people at the revised levels of appropriate density (Roses at al, 2020).
The green space planning in cities has to be rethought: the width of running trails may be widened and more green open spaces will have to be incorporated to meet the needs of people from all classes in society(Roses at al, 2020). This strategy will improve the health of the city dwellers through exercise and social interactions without violating social distancing norms.
Le Corbusier formulated the idea of green roofs in the 20th century to be a contact between humans and nature (Ülkeryıldız, 2020). This strategy is strongly recommended by environmentalists as it increases biodiversity, reduces the heat island effect and increases thermal comfort. The concept of garden cities which was proposed by the green architects is finally being given value for its ability to create a biophilic link which improves our mental health while meeting sanitary norms. The social distancing norms has encouraged society to engage in outdoor activities such as jogging and walking and utilising rooftops for exercising.
The future remains vague but one thing is clear, humanity can expect future pandemics. The built environment should be at the frontline of the response to the pandemic. However, this is not the case at present designers are overlooking the importance of designing pandemic resilient structures.
Menon (2021) Covid-19 fallout: How the pandemic displaced millions of migrants. Retrieved from: https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/news-makers/story/20210111-displaced-distressed-1755084-2021-01-03
Puliyel N(2020) Why COVID-19 can—and should—change how our cities are designed. Retrieved from: https://caravanmagazine.in/health/why-covid-19-and-should-change-how-our-cities-are-designed
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Ülkeryıldız, E. (2020, May). Transformation of Public and Private Spaces: Instrumentality of Restrictions on the Use of Public Space During COVID 19 Pandemic. In International Conference of Contemporary Affairs in Architecture and Urbanism (ICCAUA-2020) (Vol. 6, p. 8).
Priya Boby is the senior architect at Aeiforia Architects. She has completed M.Arch from UK and is LEED AP BD+C. She believes that architects play a pivotal role in the creation of a better India. Hence, she practices sustainable design and teaches her students to do the same.
Bhupendra Kumar is an Architect and Interior designer. He is the Founding Director of Aeiforia Architects. He has completed his B. Arch and M.Arch(gold medalist, JMI).