Planning for Post-Covid-19 Cities: Human-centered, Healthy and Sustainable

Since the very early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, cities have been suffering. But from another perspective, it has also been an opportunity to rethink equity and sustainable growth in cities. On 29/10/2021, enCity organized a webinar titled “Cities for People”, where various experts and guests discussed the impacts of the pandemic on our cities, and highlighted major lessons for urban planning, design, and management areas.

Low-quality and overcrowded urban are Covid-19 hotspots

In addition to the consequences of natural disasters and pollution, epidemic diseases are also one of the biggest dangers to densely populated urban areas where there is insufficient living space per household and the living conditions are poor. This has been proven in the last 2 years in big cities, not only in Vietnam, but also in other countries around the world.

The correlation between the number of Covid-19 cases and (i) areas with high rental rates (left) and (ii) average square meter per household (right) (Source: enCity)

At the webinar, Mr. Vu Chi Kien, Deputy Mayor of Binh Tan District (Ho Chi Minh City) said: “Through the research process, we found that urban development and the Covid-19 outbreak are closely related. Areas with a large number of rented houses are also the places with the highest number of Covid-19 infections”. One example of the threat of low-quality, overcrowded, rental housing areas in big cities during the pandemic is Binh Tan District, where about 200,000 workers live in suboptimal conditions. It has become a Covid-19 hotspot with rapid spread.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Duc Loc, Director of the Social Life Research Institute affirmed that in addition to the above there is a trend of workers returning home in the past few months from HCMC. There are many causes leading to this phenomenon, one of which is the people who had to suspend their work or lost their jobs due to social distancing. In addition, the cramped living quarters harmfully affected people’s health. Due to this they could not afford the costly living expenses and decided to leave.

enCity’s experts and guests agreed that in order to have a safer community, it was important to strengthen people’s awareness. In addition, attitude plays a crucial role and we have to take actions in all areas from politics, economy, education to health. Architects, urban planners and administrators need to think about building sustainable cities, not only in terms of spatial structures, but also social relations.

However, many believe that people will not come back to big cities because they do not find them to be safe places to live in the post-Covid-19 future. During the pandemic many problems were revealed in those cities. One cannot tell when Covid-19 will end and when another pandemic will come, thus, rethinking cities for everyone is necessary.

Working closely with enterprises to create safe, equitable, and sustainable cities

Urban development is not only associated with economic development, preserving culture and national identity, but also with health, safety, and proper living environment for all

To kick start the webinar, Ms. Hoa Nguyen – enCity’s Senior Associate in Policy and Planning shared initial findings from the team’s research on “Post-pandemic Urban Development”. The research aims to look for short, medium, and long term solutions for urban development after the pandemic, making sure cities and their people will find it easy to adapt to the “new normal”.

“The ‘3-on-site Model’ which involves conducting production, having meals, and resting after work in the same location cannot fully guarantee people’s health, personal activities and productivity. Hence, we need more sustainable and effective solutions”, cited the expert.

Regarding short-term solutions, factories need immediate work-arounds to ensure public health to reopen production zones. To achieve this, 5 key components are: work management, social distancing, medical care, working environment and workspace design.

As for mid-term solutions, it is necessary to propose a post-Covid-19 affordable housing plan with new focuses including: new working models, health assurance, integrated planning, plaintiff design and public spaces. While affordable housing should be inexpensive, it should maintain n acceptable quality. It must be large enough and flexible for work-from-home arrangements. It also needs to provide residents with access to services and public spaces. And during the lockdown, the tenants should be able to live, work and play within the estates without contacting with the outside.

Sustainability-oriented development is key for the long run. According to Ms. Nguyen, “When the pandemic is under control in the next 6 months or a year, we need to begin thinking about the long-term redevelopment with appropriate strategies in order to build safe and equitable cities”.

Also at the webinar, Mr. Doni Iskandar (Principal of Architecture & Urban Design, enCity) gave an overview of how to design houses in the post-pandemic period and a case studies from Indonesia. Throughout the pandemic, many innovative and sustainable initiatives have been implemented. One of the initiatives which s been going on among the Indonesian architects, especially the young generation is the movement of sustainable micro house. The development of the micro house concept is based on the principles of healthy and sustainable living such as occupant’s wellbeing and comfort, provision of alternative space for self-sustained food provision, good natural ventilation, and smart functions for the  house.

To end off the webinar, Mr. Vu Chi Kien agreed that urban planning solutions in the short, medium and long term are necessary. However, the long-term strategy should be prioritized for better urban sustainability.

Mr. Kien also cited: “We need to collaborate with enterprises to build new high-quality houses in the future, and renovate existing ones to enhance living conditions for tenants, “. However, according to a survey conducted in Binh Tan District (HCMC), most of the investors are not willing to invest in neither new construction nor renovation. In order to attract them, he proposed that the government should consider policies such as tax reduction, loan support, subsidies for site clearance and fasten the administrative process.

Huong Ly