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How Cities Will Change After the Pandemic

How Cities Will Change After the Pandemic

© iStock

Traditional urban planning in the United States and Europe developed in response to the epidemics of cholera, tuberculosis, and typhoid. In an op-ed for RBC, Nadezhda Khort, curator of the Shukhov Laboratory of Experimental Urban Design and the master’s programme ‘Prototyping Future Cities’ in the Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism, considers the skills and practices cities should employ in post-pandemic urban development.

Big Data City Management

By using real-time big data analysis, the cities of South Korea were able to significantly reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Authorities used GPS data to track the course of the epidemic and disseminated this information among residents, so that citizens could adjust their routes and reduce their risk of infection.

Having big data analysis tools and, more importantly, understanding the logic of their processing, interpretations, and applications allowed both city administrations as well as citizens at the household level to make more informed decisions

Unfortunately, big data analytics is not a subject offered in most urban planning programmes in Russia, and it is still far from being represented in every international programme in the field. However, the epidemic has shown that putting off decisions and not having data analysis systems in place can paralyze entire megacities. After the pandemic, cities will have to develop these systems on a massive scale, and there will be a great demand for qualified big data analytics specialists. To be able to ride the wave of this trend, future specialists need to be developing the necessary skills now.

Digital Platforms Bringing Together Citizens to Solve Common Problems

The pandemic has shown that people are ready to help each other when they face common challenges. Digital platforms can be a tool that brings local communities together to solve problems together.

As part of a course project, some students of our master’s programme at HSE University developed a digital platform for apartment buildings that brings together building residents and allows them to develop a sharing economy, exchange goods, make decisions regarding building maintenance matters and the neighborhood, get to know each other, and find common interests. Another student project used neural networks to help citizens create a technical task for improving of the urban environment, which also brings together citizens and allows them to control the project from its initial stages to its implementation.

Self-Sufficiency of Cities, Neighborhoods, and Apartment Buildings

A specialist of the future should be able to think not only in terms of master urban development plans, but also at the level of individual elements and their potential for autonomy.

More than 1 billion people are not leaving their homes for a long period of time due to quarantine measures. This is a huge figure, and this has probably never happened before in our history. This situation raises the question of self-sufficiency for our regions and homes — their energy efficiency, environmental friendliness, ability to recycle waste, and produce food.

Improving housing autonomy, according to a study conducted by experts of the Shukhov Lab at HSE University, can significantly reduce the load on city networks, waste management systems, water treatment, as well as food production and delivery services. This can be achieved by introducing modern technologies and innovative solutions when it comes to building materials and home design.

International Cooperation

The pandemic has shown how inextricably connected we are in the face of global problems. Ignoring the problems of our distant neighbors can lead to these problems appearing in our own country.

A new class of professionals needs not only to be aware of the approaches that are being used by colleagues around the world, but also to build networks of cooperation, work in international teams, and exchange their experience in order to jointly confront the global challenges of urban development.

Having a knowledge of the English language, reading the specialized literature, and maintaining contact with foreign experts is no longer a competitive advantage, but a vital necessity for everyone.

A New Demand for Interdisciplinarity

People have been talking a lot about interdisciplinarity for a long time. But now, during the pandemic, and especially after it, the demand for interdisciplinary skills and knowledge will increase significantly. Now everyone has keenly felt how interconnected we are globally and how different spheres of activity can influence each other. It is impossible to remain a competent specialist without being digitally literate, having an understanding of global trends and innovations, and being familiar with the legal risks and regulatory possibilities.

For specialists in the field of urban development, this means one thing: those who still represent urban development as a blueprint for the master plan will not be able to offer cities effective solutions to modern problems. We can no longer respond to the challenges of urban development using tools and practices of urban planning from the mid-19th century.

Nadezhda Khort
© HSE University

Full text (in Russian) on RBC site

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