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Thursday, January 07, 2021
What is 'New Normal' in Post-Pandemic Cities?
ANBOUND

In the course of urban development throughout the world, major epidemic outbreaks often promote the renewal of city planning and design concepts, as well as improvements in methods and standards, thereby promoting the sustainable development of cities towards a healthier direction. Where then, will the COVID-19 pandemic, a once in a century phenomenon, drive cities to?

In a previous research, ANBOUND pointed out that when effective vaccines and specific medications are not available to the public, strengthening a city's resilience by guiding the society towards maintaining social distancing may be the most effective way for a city to respond to the volatility of COVID-19. This is not only the basis for a stable recovery from the pandemic by the cities, but also the prerequisite for a more sustainable development of cities in the future. To enhance urban resilience, it is necessary to take a long-term perspective, carry out comprehensive planning reforms of the urban system, and comprehensively rethink and redistribute urban resources.

Throughout the world, an increasing number of countries and cities have begun to change their way of thinking, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity in hopes to systematically repair the latent issues of the past as well as prepare for potential future possibilities. Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an American nonprofit organization, and the Bloomberg Foundation recommends that comprehensive reforms of the infrastructure systems which support social and economic operations should be given priority for U.S. cities which have been hit hard by the pandemic.

According to the RMI and the Bloomberg Foundation, 7.9% of Americans lost their jobs during the pandemic, and the economic crisis caused by it is immeasurable. The truth is, we are living in a world that is full of random risks and tipping points. This is inseparable from the driving force behind the overload of cities. There is no doubt that cities need to change, but that is something that is easier said than done. Cities should abandon the idea of individual transformation, focusing instead on fundamentally rebuilding the urban socio-economic system into something that is completely different from prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a more competitive, resilient, fairer, and greener system. Through direct economic investment, professional material sharing, as well as the formulation of construction guidelines and national standards, various major industries, especially the six major industries of transportation, construction, energy, broadband, water resources, and nature under the infrastructure system that supports urban operations will undergo more systematic and overall reforms.

Therefore, with the goal of building a healthier, safer, greener and more resilient city, the RMI and the Bloomberg Foundation suggests changes need to be made in the following six areas of infrastructure: (1) in the transportation sector, as it encourages cities to return spaces occupied by cars to the citizens; (2) in the construction sector, the focus is mainly on areas which are vulnerable to the pandemic, such as impoverished and affordable housing communities as well as schools. These can be starting points in carrying out in-depth upgrades and transformations of the urban building system, and realizing the vision of affordable, resilient, healthy and climate-friendly housing, schools, and commercial buildings; (3) in the energy sector, by accelerating the phasing-out of coal power plants and deploying clean energy mixes and through grid upgrades and regulatory reforms, this aims to achieve low-carbon emission and modern power grids, making electricity more affordable, clean and reliable; (4) in the telecommunication sector, through competition, municipal institutions, or public-private partnership (PPP) projects, there would be an expansion of affordable and wide-ranging broadband channels (ideally fiber optic reach gigabit or wireless 5G), which strives to provide all citizens with access to the internet; (5) in water resources management, through the upgrading of the water supply infrastructure (including the replacement of main service lines) and the improvement of sewage treatment. This aims to formulate national water-saving plans and green rainwater infrastructure and provide clean drinking water for all Americans, while managing drought and flood risks; (6) finally, natural systems. With the goal of promoting the integration and peaceful coexistence between the city and nature, the plan is to build more green spaces within reach of the public as a link and buffer zone between reinforced concrete buildings and people and nature. Because these six major industries have many things in common, using them as a whole to promote the systemic reform of infrastructure projects can also create more new job opportunities as well as promote economic and social recovery.

It is difficult for any country or city to ignore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic, cities may not be able to make full use of their various resources, including labor, land, capital, etc., for a long time. For the United States alone, the economic damage caused by this may even be more severe than during the Great Depression. In the battle against the pandemic, it is very likely that no city can remain unscathed. However, the new requirements imposed by the pandemic on urban resilience have put many cities around the world on the same starting line. In this, the core competition may lie in the comprehensiveness of the system and their respective forward-looking vision.

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