Cities after COVID-19
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - April 14, 2020 - 12:00am

That it will be an entirely new world after this pandemic is a definite understatement. For the first time in recent history, almost all countries and cities in the world have been shut down. That includes movement within certain areas, as well as travel from one part of the world to another. Up until early this year, thousands of people had the ability to move from one place to another place in the globe in less than 24 hours. It hasn’t been that way in centuries past - it would take years. Or even be impossible.

Cities, as the primary form of settlement of people, have to rethink their raison d’etre. The single most important reason why cities exist is urban density. When people live and work closer to each other, it generates a certain efficiency in all aspects of urban processes, from the need for space to the need to travel. That’s the reason we tend to go into mass housing and mass transport – the more people and their activities congregate, the less resources and processes are necessary, the cheaper everything would cost, the more wealth is generated and the better is the quality of life for all. Theoretically.

As technology advances, so does man’s ability to fight hindrances to life and better life. In just a span of less than a century, life expectancy has increased by 10 years, people live longer, adding to the natural increase in population. Morbid as it may sound, but wars and sickness were the world’s best way of reining in population increases in the past. Even with the general reality that fertility rates are decreasing, mortality rates are also decreasing and the percentage of the productive population to the dependent population has decreased. Which is why people congregate in cities to get the efficiencies to support the ageing population.

How will cities look like after COVID-19? First, we have to rethink urban mobility. The lockdowns have shown us the best way to address traffic congestion. In Manila and in Cebu, we have an instantaneous disappearance of the traffic jams we were just complaining about last year, so much so that an order was issued to institute speed limits along our empty city streets. Imagine replacing our cars with buses all over the city! We would be going back to the same urban processes less the traffic we knew. People need mobility from our homes to our places of work, and the bus is the best way to transport us. Cars are for personal conveniences, but which benefit only those who can afford it. Which is less than 20% of the population.

This lockdown also made us see a lot of bicycles in the city! People realize that it is not a bad alternative after all, and should be considered as an important transport mode, along with the others. It’s not as if we have to make a choice, we can actually alternately use them, say, once or twice a week. And we would be introducing new ways on how we interact. Whatever it is, we can only hope we’ve learned our lesson towards a better future.

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