Urban Planning for More Resilience in a Post-Pandemic World

How will cities look in a post-pandemic scenario and how has the worldwide health crisis affected urban planning in this day and age, especially in Africa?

An RTPI Research Paper published in October 2021 investigated these and related matters highlighting the importance of more resilient planning for sustainable urban environments. The authors argue that the pandemic has necessitated an urgent revisiting of how society functions emphasising the need to accelerate the implementation of plans to reduce the carbon footprints of economies and disease-related risks and promote more inclusive prosperity models.

This in-depth reflection of the issues at hand and discusses the essentials for change to achieve sustainable urban planning objectives in a post-pandemic world. The pandemic added new challenges to existing issues, whilst it has exposed the weaknesses in the urban planning environments. Key issues discussed in the paper are highlighted below in support of the argument to rethink how we see our urban environments and gain a better understanding of the challenges to address.

Three main themes emerge from the impact of the pandemic on the cities and built environments:

  • Housing, community well-being and overall health of people
  • Changes in consumption patterns, production and economic activity
  • Limitations of city infrastructure for movement

Housing, community well-being and health

More affordable and connected low-carbon-footprint housing is required to ensure a higher level of pandemic readiness to reduce the economic impact on poorer communities, as well as limit the number of lives lost during such a crisis.

People who live in informal settlements can hardly stay indoors for long periods as they lack running water, electricity and other essentials available to those who live in formal housing. These communities are more vulnerable along with the large number of homeless people who dwell on the streets and have no means to secure food and safe shelter during similar health and lockdown crises situations.

Adapt for changes in economic activity, consumption patterns and production

Lockdown regulations, along with disease prevention steps, have changed the way people interact, shop, consume and work. In the pre-pandemic world, the focus was on the development of corporate parks and green workspaces. People travelled to work and returned home after business hours. Now we see that a larger segment of the employed population works from home.

The office environment is now distributed, helping to reduce traffic congestion issues, but at the same time, a larger load is placed on the communication infrastructure.

Many people go to the office once or twice a week whilst others perform all their work duties from home. This has shown that certain segments of the economy can adapt in such a crisis environment.

Shopping patterns have also changed. Online shopping is fast becoming the way to find and purchase products for delivery to homes.

Likewise, the virtual healthcare services now available provide access to essential medical consultations without people having to travel. Even in the educational field, we’ve seen a move towards online courses and virtual classrooms.

However, in manufacturing, entertainment, sport, hospitality and related industries, the adaptability to a changed environment has not been without challenges. In addition, for those without high-speed Internet connectivity and sophisticated purchase methods, the impact of the pandemic has been worse. Food distribution networks must be adapted in addition to logistics as part of urban planning for the future.

Infrastructure for improved travelling in urban environments

The spatial divide regarding access to essential products and services came to light during the lockdown in South Africa. Limitations on the number of people who can travel using public transport systems, inclusive of mini taxi services, have shown that many communities cannot get to food sources, places of work and healthcare services during crisis times.

To create more accessibility, regardless of whether it is for unique crises situations or normal day-to-day functioning, city planning should include improvements in walking spaces, exercise areas and public transport infrastructure in response to possible similar pandemic situations in future. By ensuring that workplaces are located closer to communities, the need to travel far to get to work can be reduced. Health centres and places to exercise even during such social distancing periods will become more important in future.

Urban planning – key takeaways

If the pandemic and lockdown regulations have taught town planners one thing, it is the importance of resilient urban planning models. Working towards a more sustainable future also entails making provision for the possibility of other crises situations. Infrastructure development must take into consideration which sectors struggle during pandemics and subsequent movement limitations, which communities are most vulnerable and how to ensure ongoing economic activity through proper infrastructure development.

Consult with our urban planning experts about the ways we can help your city council, firm, campus or community to design, plan and create better and more resilient infrastructure for a sustainable future.