July 14, 2020

Post-Covid-19 City Planning : Case for a Mixed-use space

In the history of humankind, monumental events such as war and pandemics have provided the opportunity for policymakers to rethink spatial policies. For example, the Post-second World War/Industrial revolution era ushered in the new town movement. Climate change brought about the drive to reduce the use of the car and popularized the green city concept amongst policymakers.

Now we have Covid-19,  what should we expect  in terms of a city-wide response for the future? As one would expect, the urban areas of the world are mostly affected, experiencing the highest rate of infection. The deficiency of hospitals has led to a race to build them in places that are not designed with health in mind.

For example, the Italian government had considered building hubs in the center and south of the country where health infrastructure is weak. Nevertheless, more than 75% of Italy’s Covid-19 cases have occurred north of Tuscany, where, even with the country’s health infrastructure, the region has been overrun with the need for urgent care. It is apparent that we cannot build spaces with a single function when we need them to be helpful in emergencies. So, what does this mean for Nigeria’s towns and cities post-Covid-19?


Nigeria needs a spatial planning policy.

 Planning a town or city appropriately means designing a scalable urban system with a perfect view of risks and limitations. Nigeria has no spatial planning framework to guide spatial policies at the local level (where development takes place). Like other countries in the League of Nations, climate change provided us with the opportunity to come up with a spatial policy that can cushion the effects of climate change in our environment, and at the same time plan for the future; but nothing was done to that effect, considering that Nigeria is a signatory to the Paris accord. The Paris accord provided us with the opportunity to cut carbon emissions from activities such as energy consumption, commuting, construction, consumption, etc. a move that can be achieved through proper planning of the city and townscape. However, we let this opportunity slip past us. Now, Covid-19 has provided us another opportunity to rethink our spatial policy going forward. So what should we be doing?


The Urban and Regional Planning Act

The 1992 Urban and Regional Planning Act gave the powers to establish a development control unit. However, the act is inadequate and rigid from the get-go, and presently outdated, as city or town planning should be dynamic and flexible to meet present-day challenges; and thus needs reviewing. The 1992 URP Act focuses on controlling the development of physical structures, most specifically buildings, and has left out other human activities within the physical environment such as waste, transport, energy consumption, and the likes. Thus, town and city planners exist and function without a local plan, this scenario can be likened to the existence of lawyers and judges without the law to guide judgments in the law court.

Consequently, what exists is zoned development projects majorly based on quota, politics, and/or political legacy of officeholders and less on public needs and interest. However, few Nigerian cities have master plans with proposed development zoned across the city. The problem with this type of planning technique adopted in these master plans is that it involves zoning a single function to land, and as a result, different functions are spread out across the city.


Cities and Preparedness Plans

 People make long trips to work (characterized by traffic jams) and longer trips for those who go on market and school runs after the close of work. Considering that, Covid-19 is contacted mostly from physical contact; this is bad news for urban residence. To resolve the issues associated with single-use zoning, the mixed-use  zoning technique must be adopted while planning: which entails that a land-use performs different functions. Also, the proactive effort has to be part of good design practice from now on.

Considering that more than 50% of the planet’s population inhabits cities that are no more fertile for agriculture, this is why cities and towns should consider prevention, along with being more disaster-ready. As Robert Muggah and Rebecca Katz recently contended, cities require a preparedness plan. This obviously is lacking in Nigeria, as there are technical and regulatory gaps that need to be addressed in the planning of our urban areas. Efforts by designers, logistics experts, and safety specialists must set guidelines and establish best practices and adhered to.


Rethinking Spaces with Supporting Policies

Thus, city and town planners must rethink shared spaces, private or public, to make them controllable, manageable, and ready to be instantly re-purposed in an emergency – this can only be achieved if the mixed land use planning technique is adopted. Also, there is a need to address defects in infrastructure, too.

A post-Covid-19 approach to urban design should integrate information technology with city planning. This makes working from and schooling at home possible, thus making commuting less important. Less we forget, the social space is the most critically affected space during any crisis period. The city of the future must be able to address this in local plans which should incorporate supporting policies for broadband access and penetration as efforts are made by companies to digitally transform their processes. We have seen workers as well reskill to be digitally-relevant in the emerging world of work.

A well designed city without the corresponding infrastructure to support it ultimately leads people back to the old ways of living,  mobility and work. Thereby,  initiating a cycle of mistakes currently being made.

Olawale Akogun
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