Cities are quiet, office buildings are dark, and shopkeepers are closing their brick-and-mortar stores. This dystopian sight has become the new normal during the two last years. The Covid-19 pandemic hit us hard last year. Currently, no country has escaped the effects of the deadly virus. Not only are citizens in danger of this highly infectious and deadly disease, but it also has had a devastating effect on the global economy.
Currently, there are multiple different variants of Covid-19 circulating around the world. The most concerning variants have been names Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. There are other types, but these are recognized as the most aggressive variants. Even though the Covid-19 vaccines are already in the market and many countries have vaccinated their citizens, there is still the fear that more variants of the virus will spread before most people have been vaccinated.
During the pandemic, more and more people have started to work from home – when possible. Also, international travel has all but stalled. The free movement of people has been partly been restricted by strict curfews or quarantines and by outright restricting international travel. Hardest hit areas have mainly been the densely populated cities.
IS THE CITY DEAD?
The devastating effects of Covid-19 have not spared anyone. In one way or another we all are suffering from the pandemic. The current “normal “we live in is surrounded by constant uncertainty. This has been the case for about 2 years. To add insult to injury, a pandemic like this will probably not be the last of its kind.
During the pandemic, people living in the countryside – away from densely populated cities – have the advantage of better social distancing opportunities. Rural areas do have disadvantages as well. Medical care may be limited or non-existent. Cities, on the other hand, are densely populated making social distancing difficult if not impossible.
Covid-19 drove many people out of offices. Distance working from a home office became very popular. This has prompted many questions. Do companies need offices in the future, if people prefer to work from home? The more than trillion Euro question arises: do we really need any new office buildings in the future? Do we have to live in a city if we can work from home? Is the concept of a city dead?
At Gisica we are not only interested in working with LiDAR data that can create realistic 3D city models, but we are also curious about current trends and the future of urban city planning. Especially now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the question arises what the future of cities in the post-pandemic era is. How will city planning change? Will we even have or need cities?
PANDEMICS SHAPING OUR CITIES
During the Covid-19 pandemic it has become more and more obvious how important urban planning is when it comes to the wellbeing and health of people. This is not the first time, and most definitely not the last time that we will experience a pandemic. Throughout history pandemics have reshaped the cities we currently live in.
Geographic Information is an utterly important tool in health management. There are some notable examples. One of the most famous cases is the cholera outbreak that occurred in London, 1854. The cholera pandemic went around the world during 1846-1860. However, a London-based physician John Snow was able to discover the cause of the cholera pandemic by using a map to locate the cholera cases in London in 1854. He was able to determine, that the cholera outburst was caused by germ-contaminated water. His findings influenced the way cities started to provide clean water to their citizens and how sewage water was treated in cities across the world. The cholera outbreak and the study conducted by John Snow created the base for modern cities that we live in today that were reengineered and reconfigured to meet potential threats of diseases.
Cities have always had to respond to epidemics and pandemics. The more densely populated a city is, the easier it is for pandemics to spread. The more people there are, the faster the disease can spread. The flu in 1918 and the outbreak of H1N1 also affected the way cities have been restructured and how cities have made plans to respond to future pandemics.
THE EEFFECTS OF GLOBAL URBANIZATION
It is widely believed that soon the big majority of population growth will only happen in cities. This means that cities will grow even larger than what they are now, and they will have to populate a much larger amount of people. This global urbanization trend has had devastating affects to nature and ecosystems. Since the 1970s, up to 68% of the world’s wildlife has been destroyed by humans. Plastic pollution, air pollution, deforestation, and luxuries such as cell phones, cars and houses are to blame for this.
However, it is not only wildlife that has suffered. Without realizing it ourselves, we have made cities more susceptible to epidemics and pandemics. The number of rats, bats, and other animals that harbor diseases have increased around humans. Animals have found their way into our cities. We are more exposed to cross-species spill overs and human-pathogen interactions.
THE BENEFITS OF URBANIZATION
Even though epidemics and pandemics spread much easier in densely populated cities, they remain the main pillars of social progress and prosperity to societies. Cities also offer better opportunities to individuals as most jobs, services and goods can be found in cities. Rural areas lack many of the services people in cities take for granted.
Cities are also known as the hub spots of great innovations. Big cities have a huge amount of very skilled labour that work in various fields. Experts that would not otherwise cross their paths have a higher chance meeting in cities. Cities have more of the critical mass to pave roads for innovations. This has enabled some of the greatest inventions in human history.
The reason why it is important to meet face-to-face is amazingly simple. A personal contact with someone leads to more trust. People bond and create social capital. When there is trust, people are more eager to exchange information. Trust is also a vital point in many business transactions. Trust increases productivity and lowers transaction costs, thus improving the economy. The denser a city is, the more likely people will meet, create social capital, do business and make inventions.
Modern cities also have an infrastructure. This infrastructure makes it easier and faster to get from place to place. In a pandemic free situation, using public transport and flying to other countries and cities is greatly beneficial and increases trade that reflects positively on the economy.
A POST-PANDEMIC CITY
The effects of Covid-19 have been devastating – globally. The disease has spread from one city to another at high speed. We live in a more global world than ever before, and the disease spread with international travellers at the speed of jetliners. Travellers took Covid-19 unknowingly from one country to another, from one continent to another. Pretty soon, all major metropolitan cities where Covid-19 hotspots.
Pandemics are not the only major issue city planners have to keep an eye on. Planners must keep track on public spaces, transportation, connectivity and economy. In addition, urban planners have to take into consideration problems concerning hygiene, sanitation, terrorism and public safety.
If we look at European cities, we can find parks and promenades in every big city. Throughout history, more parks and promenades have been created after a pandemic or epidemic outbreak. The denser a city is, the more space is needed for people to keep safe distances. Parks are the “lungs” of the city but also places for social distancing. During the Covid-19 pandemic it became clear that people should meet outside to avoid spreading the disease. Meeting in parks and having wider pedestrian sidewalks have slowed the raging pandemic. Areas, where people have more green and gardens of their own, have had less Covid-19 cases than those areas that do not.
Findings like these suggest that the post-pandemic cities should have wider pedestrian pavements and more parks. Politicians are discussing and planning to create car-free city centres. This has been a hot topic before the pandemic, but the willpower to do so has become stronger during the Covid-19 pandemic. There is also fear that only the already wealthy areas will become greener while the poorer areas will become even less so. The more densely populated areas with lower-income households have suffered the most.
Another problem that has arisen during the Codic-19 pandemic has been public transport and international travel. It had never been cheaper or faster to travel internationally than it was just before the pandemic. Now, countries have tried to keep their citizens safe by minimizing international travel. Borders have more or less been closed.
Big cities have tried to promote public transport over private motoring. However, during the pandemic the use of public transport has all but diminished. Private cars have been seen as the safer alternative. Also, in some countries and bigger cities there have been strict rules and even curfews.
Regardless of the pandemic, it is safe to assume that cities will not die in the future. There are signs that Covid-19 will result in greener cities with parks, wider pedestrian roads, pavements and promenades. It is likely that some cities will make car-free inner-city areas and perhaps create tolls for traffic.
One question needs to be answered – soon. We still do not know how transport could be organized so that the problems of Covid-19 could be minimized without sacrificing our freedoms. We do not know how to travel internationally or locally without spreading the virus. The hope is that vaccinations will lead to herd immunity and that we could start inching towards normalcy.
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