Prior to what can be described as the great upset of the century, brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic that exposed key areas of unpreparedness, cities were inflexibly ingrained in customs of social interactions and proclivity, epitomized by norms of unconstrained use of human and natural energy, and space.
Most importantly too, cities were increasingly becoming quite hard to manage as they continually make room for more people than they can sustainably cope with, fetching ills in pollution, overcrowding, traffic congestion and crime. Thus, to ponder on the workings of a typical boisterous city, is to rekindle flashbacks of wanton messiness, reminiscent of the pre-pandemic days.
Furthermore, these immutable attributes: unabating and unpausing CO2 emissions, hyper-congestion of traffic and pedestrian activities, overpopulation, crime and inequality, often imperilled booming cities.
Although, this representation of how things subsisted in cities prior to much of 2020 may not evoke the essence of the proverbial halcyon days; in the way things were, it was a time of relative calm and consistency. For instance, all stakeholders commuting and planning within them, having no alternative frame of reference were somewhat managing to find their calm within the storm.
The obvious routines in how the ecosystem of cities were wired bred needless commotion and bottleneck as much of their congestion stemmed from the traffic of the throngs of commuters and single occupancy vehicles that overwhelm their limited spaces, due to the concentration of offices, high street retail shops, and organisations in them.
This medley is further exacerbated by constraints presented via the ordering of events around set time for city people to mingle and get their daily economic activities done.
The standardised timing of events (opening time – lunch time – closing time) compels workers and other users alike to flock en-masse in and around cities, placing significant pressure on city infrastructure and the utility of city spaces.
In addition, should the compounding effect of the forces of nature; elicited by weather perturbations like rain, cold and heavy winds be considered, their inescapable and incessant negative impact on the autonomy and wellbeing of users and commuters alike, present an odd coupling.
But as stakeholders helplessly observe and haplessly bemoan the otherworldly scenery of ‘great quiet’ and ‘mass solitude’ produced by the Covid-19 lockdowns; the unconstrained interactions of people (hugging, talking and shaking hands), places (teeming and brimming with movements) and processes that this zombie like scenery replace, cause the often limited definition of resilience to percolate into unchartered territory.
While to the untrained eyes this change may appear to be transitory, and little more than an unwelcome distraction; there is an unveiling of clear paradigm-shifting distinctive insights to those who plan cities and to the research and project management inclined.
Thus, as a researcher, these observations pose to me, the following questions:
Should the rethinking of cities engender innovation that wholly support inclusivity, resilience and responsiveness?
Should the practitioners in the myriad domains of pedagogy and research boldly confront the evanescence of the once rigid reality of resilience as availability?
To this end, this column by its monthly delivery will channel the events of 2020 to exploratorily and explicatively enact alternate frames of reference, using examples from all around the world on how new experiences are distilling the old to a rethinking of cities and public spaces.
Shadé Adepeju-Joseph DipM MA MS PMP FCIM
Industry Analyst, Resilience Thinking Media Institute