The Covid-19 has strained India’s urban centers, highlighting the need to reconnect contemporary urban development with public health that would offer a new dimension to the decision-making framework for healthy and resilient urban planning. Going forward, our cities should take a closer look at the progress of Covid-19, well-being, inclusion, green recovery and the quality of life of city dwellers. An intersectional and collaborative approach is essential to develop an action-oriented strategy capable of dealing with increasing complexities. It is necessary to build a possible decalogue for urban decision-makers by promoting actions and policies aimed at transforming our cities into healthier and more protective living environments:
Cities should prioritize general public health as part of their urban development framework. There is a need to rethink the effectiveness of planning standards and master plan processes, local plans, URDPFI guidelines, other development plans, etc., for human health. Covid-19 has already changed our travel habits and the way we live and socialize. The political landscape is changing and post-Covid urban planning places people at the center of urban transformation. Today, access is considered more important than simple mobility. A new urban planning paradigm called “city in 15 minutes” is gaining more and more popularity. Under this model, cities attempt to provide their residents with essential services in pedestrian proximity. A few cities are in the process of reclaiming their streets / highways and converting them for more human-centered use.
In addition, cities must also adopt scalable components such as Covid-19 care services, public domain temperature control, space guidelines for communicable disease containment, social distancing and crowd control. , health emergency preparedness and disinfection in their planning process.
Cities should realign their municipal budgets for the creation and operation of urban health facilities. There is a need to converge on-going efforts under a single urban health plan and to leverage innovative financing mechanisms to overcome the challenges of investing in urban health infrastructure for building a robust health system.
Cities should rapidly integrate smart technologies and digital platforms. While ‘war rooms’ would become a staple for crisis management, unified digital platforms would make the delivery of basic urban services (such as water supply, solid waste management and sanitation) smart and citizen-centered. Covid-19 has led to wide adoption of digital platforms for health surveillance (Trace Together from Singapore, Arogya Setu from India, etc.), which can be further strengthened and integrated to enable informed decision-making proofs.
Cities need to innovate with their legacy data, open data and advanced analytics to build resilience. Effective and competent health care and surveillance systems alone are not sufficient to ensure success in a crisis. Cities must rely on open data platforms, health risk simulation models, comprehensive citizen health indices, community screening, asset optimization, chain traceability and visibility procurement of public resources and vulnerability hotspots to proactively address future health risks and other related risks. .
There is an urgent need to start strengthening basic urban services in the smallest urban unit by formulating neighborhood service plans to assess self-sufficiency, adequacy and equitable distribution of basic urban amenities such as drinking water , efficient sanitation services, reliable solid waste and drainage management, and housing, as well as access to education, employment, food and health services as priority activities.
Growing concern over the increasing number of deaths from lifestyle-related diseases reopens the wider debate about psychological and physical well-being. Access to open public spaces, the vitality of green spaces, parks, sports facilities, provision for the care of toddlers and the elderly would play a central role in defining healthy cities for the future. (Cities and citizens have already resorted to urban DIY tactics to redesign public spaces and safer transport hubs. Rethink accessibility, design outdoor shared living spaces, build typologies and promote presence of semi-private or collective spaces can contribute to the physical, mental and social well-being of people.
Cities must also take swift and bold action to recover from the pandemic, while focusing on tackling climate change. In the future, the adoption of nature-based solutions to improve the urban living environment must be integrated. In the long term, cities should develop a set of clear roadmaps for climate action, the plan for clean air, the popularization of electronic vehicles (EVs) and the circularity of waste for their green and sustainable recovery. Cities need to stabilize, protect businesses and build resilient local economies in times of economic uncertainty. They need targeted strategies for disproportionately affected segments such as migrant workers for economic well-being.
The pandemic has revealed a new world of multiple and aggravated risks that must be addressed through community efforts. Cities need to build stronger behavior change models to induce community resilience. They would need to unify the potential of media, grassroots organizations, information literacy, cell penetration and local channels to empower residents to put desired civic standards into practice.
By considering these dimensions holistically and moving towards targeting these deeply rooted inequalities and deprivations, change agents and development practitioners will be in a better position to mitigate future risks and build resilience. Today, cities have a unique chance to capitalize on the pandemic and rebuild resiliently. It is the future of cities that will shape the post-Covid world.
(The opinions expressed are personal. Shivanshu Chauhan is Urban Infrastructure Leader at PwC India and Ishita Aryan is Senior Consultant.)