Challenges of designing a city for a post pandemic world

Challenges of designing a city for a post pandemic world

After going through various research papers and articles on this subject, I had a strange realization. Ironically, the design of a city for a post pandemic world is akin to what an ideal city should have been in the first place!

While framing ideas and visualizing a city for post pandemic life, the designer should focus on:

  • Creating an inclusive, healthy, and equitable layout, reinforcing the need to put humans and nature before automobiles and infrastructure.
  • The concept of ‘physical distancing’ versus ‘social distancing’. People will always need to assemble but they need to be able to meet safely in the post pandemic era.
  • Supporting a return to thriving post pandemic businesses. Restaurants can be encouraged to reimagine outdoor seating with al fresco dining.
  • Creating more functional green spaces by repurposing derelict and underused land.
  • Embracing the best practices of road safety and public health to make pedestrian-oriented cities.
  • Amplifying the existing characteristics of the surrounding areas to build a unique city rather than concrete clones.
  • Using reusable yet durable and sustainable material with strategies in place for future disassembling and reconstruction.
  • Optimizing resources and time spent on executing the project.
  • Designing a warm, engaging, and safe environment.
  • Preserving biodiversity and wildlife.
  • Collaborating with artists to design clean, helpful messaging (in appropriate languages for the community) throughout the city.

New Urbanization strategies and their offshoots like the idea of a Fifteen Minute City are more important than ever for the post pandemic world. People should be able to access most daily needs within fifteen minutes of their home. The design of the city must promote amenities in local neighborhoods to reduce commute distance and time. These possibilities are already being explored in cities like Paris and Milan.

One of the first and most notable projects in this direction is the Stapleton neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. It was rezoned to become one of the largest mixes of residential and commercial areas in Denver with an emphasis on public places. But the very unfortunate reality of how Stapleton has been used by its residents is an eye opener. Stapleton now has much higher vehicle speeds, fewer bicyclists, and fewer pedestrian transit users.

This outcome only highlights the importance of monitoring, post the design and execution stages. We, at Aligned Studios have always placed a premium on monitoring how our projects perform. Understanding how the user interprets the design is essential. This provides invaluable inputs to our design team for their future work as well as excellent feedback to our existing client base.

There are a lot of people who have moved away from densely populated cities to suburbs and smaller towns as the pandemic has allowed the liberty of remote work. And having the leisure of space and closeness to nature is enticing enough not to return to dense neighborhoods. Unlike organically evolved town spaces, these spaces created by New Urbanists have been criticized by many for looking like movie sets. The architects and landscape designers who are planning cities for the post pandemic world need to rack their brains to reimagine cities for such people.

In a recent address to the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Richard Florida, Professor at the University of Toronto and author of The New Urban Crisis, sums up what we really need to understand about the post-pandemic world:

“I think what we are going through is a great urban reset and it’s not just the pandemic. It’s a series of overlapping crises,” he said. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime, no, once-in-a-century opportunity, to build our communities, our cities, back better. We are beginning a fundamental reset in the way we work and the way we live and the way we shop and how we go about our everyday lives.”