With cities around the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are speculating and planning for the long-awaited re-opening of our beloved cities. But it may be hard to imagine how our cities can reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is an overview of how cities are changing during the pandemic, what we can expect moving forward, and what we can do to help our cities open in light of all these changes.
What Is A Pandemic?
A pandemic is a disease outbreak that spreads to a global level. An outbreak turns into a pandemic when a new virus emerges and spreads rapidly worldwide because there is no pre-existing immunity to the new virus.
In December of 2019, a new virus in the coronavirus family, now called COVID-19, appeared in Wuhan, China, and spread rapidly worldwide. To date (April 15, 2020), the WHO has reported 1,812,734 cases.
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How Will Cities Be Changed Post-Pandemic?
1. Renewed Focus On Public Health
With this recent pandemic, people are becoming more aware of various issues within the healthcare systems. Some countries are finding out that their healthcare system is dangerously under strain, while others are dealing with social issues concerning affordable health care, and some others are learning that they are understaffed or underpaid.
On the ground, many people are taking a renewed interest in teaching hygiene to children, practicing better health habits themselves, and taking better precautions against disease. Many people are also becoming more interested in careers and education in health science, and more people are taking online courses in the fields of health, pandemics, and disease prevention.
2. Change In Jobs
With so many people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, it won’t be surprising if there is a rise in employees working from home, even after the lockdowns are over.
This may happen because employers and companies realize that working from home actually works just fine, and cuts down expenses for office spaces. People may realize the benefits of working from home and may want to shift to a work-from-home position.
With this shift, we may see less need for office spaces and more need for cafes and meeting rooms. More people will be free to move out of the city, since living close to the center will no longer be necessary.
In addition, we will hopefully see a significant upgrade for front-line workers — the workers who have been the most necessary during the pandemic. The public is becoming more aware of the value of jobs which were taken for granted, ranging from grocery store clerks to anyone in the healthcare system.
3. Change In Public Transportation
In light of the pandemic, it will be very important to make airports and other travel infrastructures safe for travelers. Just like the airport security changed drastically after 9/11, we will probably see a big shift in the way that airports take precautions in terms of health concerns.
Inner-city transportation may also see a change in terms of day-to-day choices. The concerns of crowded busses and trains may encourage people to opt for bikes or car sharing services (in cities where taking individual cars is difficult).
And lockdowns around the world have given people a new appreciation for walking and being outdoors. This may also help encourage more walking and biking once people are freed from their homes.
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4. Change In Urban Design
Social distancing in big cities is really difficult due to the way that cities are designed and operated. In light of the pandemic, there may be an emphasis on more space between people in public spaces, for times when physical distancing is necessary.
5. Change In Stores
Local businesses and the economy in general have taken a real hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, many small businesses may not be able to make it through these difficult times without a tremendous amount of local and governmental support.
Retail stores, as well, have slowly been replaced by online shopping, and this pandemic may speed up that process. Malls and strip malls may stop being relevant as many retail stores are taken over by Amazon and other online platforms.
We may see a lot of store fronts closing and turning over into housing units or other relevant shops.
The businesses that will continue to be relevant include coffee shops, restaurants, and personal care businesses such as gyms and salons.
6. Change In Education
With most schools and universities closed, many students find themselves studying through distance learning at home.
Studying at home has its pros and cons, but what’s being shown is that online learning is beneficial and reliable, and many students may opt to continue or switch to online education.
Online universities, such as University of the People, offer degrees online in the fields of business administration, health science, computer science, and education. Since it is completely online, students can be anywhere in the world, and school doesn’t close, even when a pandemic strikes.
Key Things We Can Do To Prepare Our Cities To Reopen
1. Temperature Checks
Some cities are implementing temperature checks in public places such as grocery and pharmacy stores, and of course airports. Though it isn’t foolproof, temperature checks may help transmission from flaring up and spreading.
2. Wearing Protective Gear
Many cities are encouraging or requiring citizens to wear protective masks and gloves in public spaces. This is especially important for service workers, but everyone will need to leave their homes eventually, and protective gear can go a long way to preventing transmission as we transition back to “normal” life.
Photo by Julian Wan on Unsplash
3. New Designs For Social Distancing
Public spaces such as big grocery stores and healthcare facilities are already making changes — such as creating distance markers on the floor for lines, in order to create more space between people. This will continue to be important, and small businesses can also learn how to implement safe distances in order to reopen carefully.
This new design for physical distancing will be especially important for large facilities such as airports, stadiums, and convention centers. These facilities may incorporate temperature checks, health checks, more space between people, and protective gear for employees and participants.
4. Support For Businesses
Local and governmental support will be crucial for helping local businesses survive through this time. Businesses related to the arts and travel will be in the risk category after the pandemic. This will be the time to show local support for the culture and arts that you want to see survive, and to invest in traveling in order to support the hospitality and tourist-dependent businesses.
What A Crisis Can Show Us
We are becoming more aware of the socio-economic divide, as some can afford to live and work from home, while lower-income individuals and families are more susceptible to exposure as they continue to leave their homes to go to work. This includes all front-line workers such as nurses, retail clerks, and grocery store workers.
This attention to a large class divide can hopefully be the impetus for positive change, with workers coming together to demand better pay and the necessary protective gear.
Areas That Are More Vulnerable
Areas which are more vulnerable point to important underlying health and social issues. For one, states and cities with a higher demographic of multi-generational and religious families are in danger of being more exposed. “Kid cities,” as they’re called, are ethnic communities with deep religious and social capital, are more likely to be a hot-bed for transmission, as can be shown in the northern cities of Italy where these social factors are prevalent.
Underlying Health Issues
Areas that have a higher rate of obesity, diabetes, smoking, or other underlying health issues are at greater risk of exposure and health complications. This awareness helps shed light on these health issues and the areas in which these issues are more common.
To Wrap Up…
Crises of any kind have a way of changing cities and society from the bottom up. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting many areas of life, from work, education, transportation, and businesses. It will change the way that we live, work, and go to school.
This leaves many wondering how our cities can reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic. Many hope that the pandemic can also be a chance to become more socially aware of the most vulnerable in our society; including uneducated or lower-income areas, front-line and healthcare workers, as well as small local businesses.
Our cities will be safer to open up again by making protective gear and measures available for both front-line workers as well as the general public. Public spaces can be prepared to welcome people again with these added health measures, and prevent future outbreaks by putting an emphasis on health measures and disease prevention.