What happens when we get back to normal? The heartbreaking news of continued deaths from Covid-19 thanks to botched government policies in some countries, least of all the UK, is being tempered by the increasing speed of rolling out vaccines. One hopes the latter quickly overshadows the former but once it does, the question of ’what next?’ becomes unavoidable.
One thing that is certain is climate change will be at the forefront of the rebuilding agenda. Coronavirus has shown us the dangers of not preparing. But we know climate change exists, no matter what a few cranks continue to suggest. We know the damage it will cause, and the effects it will have. These are unavoidable, unless we speed up the work that is being done. The new administration in the United States will finally be one run on expertise and common sense - remember those? Between the welcome election of Joe Biden and COP26 later this year, momentum should gather.
Coronavirus’s effects will be felt for many years to come, even when (one hopes) we achieve a degree of herd immunity. Cities will reexamine mobility and how their citizens are now moving around them. Can micromobility play a major role in getting people to and from work, their friends and their chores? These efficiencies will be a means of saving money, which will be critical given the recession we are and will be living through for some time to come.
Another factor influencing a city’s mobility networks will be urban space, whether commercial buildings, homes or recreational space. The importance of the latter has been emphasised during the past 12 months, as citizens under lockdown measures have used them to relax. It is inevitable that working from home, will force commercial space to change. I expect quick-thinking cities will move to use neglected buildings, to serve their citizens in different ways, whether through increasing the volume of housing stock, creating innovation spaces or broadening services within a specific area.
To read these trends, and others, cities will need to process and identify essential data, no mean feat with 5G and the Internet of Things promising even more information at everyone’s fingertips. It will be one of a city’s biggest challenges not to be swept away by a tsunami of data and focus on what matters. Artificial intelligence and intelligent operation centres will be at the centre of a city’s smart data strategy.
I got really tired of the phrase ’the new normal’ extremely quickly. The normal always changes, hopefully for the better, sometimes for the worse. What we will see this year is a change in focus, a change in priority and a change in thinking how best to serve a city’s citizens. The ones that build in the above areas with them in mind are the ones that will thrive. But tackling climate change is the foundation upon healthy cities will be built on.