Campus participants discuss the future of planning and design for pandemic urban resilience

Campus participants discuss the future of planning and design for pandemic urban resilience

Nairobi, 27 May 2020  - Some 387 participants joined the eighth COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campus session to discuss the planning and design for pandemic urban resilience. The webinar was organized by the World Urban Campaign with the participation of eminent urban planners from ISOCARP and its Institute, Arcadis NV, the Commonwealth Association of Planners, the Paris Region Institute and the Urban Lab of UN-Habitat.

Experts started by reminding the central role of urban planning in the recovery and the unique opportunity to start rethinking the way we plan cities. Metropolis have been the epicenter of the crisis, starting with Wuhan, reminded Eric Huybrechts, regional planner at the Paris Region Institute. As large cities continue to grow such pandemic is increasingly inevitable and new planning and design approaches are essential to prevent and adapt  to future crisis, protect citizens and prepare for upcoming pandemics. For that, we need to learn from cities that had the most successful responses so far.

‘Planning for flattening the curve should be at the heart of urban planning’ said Bert Smolders from Arcadis NV, a firm engaged in urban infrastructures around the world.  Currently working in partnership with UN-Habitat to assist cities in the immediate response to the pandemic through a Rapid Response Help Desk, Arcadis is also thinking strategically about resilient planning approaches for the long term, in order to ‘build back better’ after the crisis by incorporating future needs, towards a ‘safe and attractive new normal’ Smolders said. However, he added that the task is complex because we have to make secure health-proof cities on one hand while preserving the livability and freedom citizens have enjoyed so far. 

One of the critical aspects of future planning will be to incorporate informal settlements, said Huybrechts, and planning for the increasing majority of urban poor that have been impacted by the pandemic. While this will one of the biggest challenges that urban planners will face, the pandemic can also be an opportunity to accelerate the shift towards the ‘green new deal’, he said. Ian Tant, the UK Vice-President of the Commonwealth Association of Planners also emphasized the fact that this crisis represents an immense opportunity for planners to fully dive into climate action, redefining green space in cities, revisiting the way city centers are designed for business. Those have the potential to be shaped differently to adapt to changing life styles as a number of workers could review commuting modes, work from home, shop differently. Urban planners can reinvent cities shaped by new ‘active’ mobilities and new approaches to public transport. Four essential avenues to rethink cities, Tant said, are through new housing standards to make people safer and healthier, promoting active travel through non-motorized transports, improving green space and reshaping city centers.

Isocarp, a global network of urban planners is actively engaging planning professionals in learning from the pandemic and looking at ways to increase urban resilience, rethinking pubic space and introducing a new health consciousness in future planning. ‘Public space has been ‘traumatized’ in this pandemic, suffering from new social distancing protocols. This requires a major shift’, said Milena Ivkovics, Coordinator of Urban Planning Advisory Teams at Isocarp. It is essential to redefine public space and orient the priorities of planners to innovate with optimal solutions. The Isocarp Institute, lead by Didier Vancutsem, is looking at ways to build the future capacities of planners through adaptative, flexible and integrated approaches to designing and planning cities.  A new dialogue will be essential in the coming years by engaging citizens and training young planners to address the challenges.

Javier Toner, Urban Development Specialist at UN-Habitat introduced the different scales through which planning should be revisited: regional, city, neighborhood and building. All scales require new thinking. Systems of cities in regions need robust blue and green networks. Cities require adapted urban fabrics, with the right densities and public spaces, mixed-use compact neighborhoods integrating urban agriculture, as well as buildings with adequate space and standards.

Urban planners are at a critical moment as the coronavirus pandemic unfold. They are called to rethink the essence of planning by incorporating new requirements to prevent and adapt to future crisis and instill a health and protection in their practice as never before. At the end of the session, planners expressed the importance of such event to reflect on the thinking of the different planning associations and practices, as well as focus on key areas such as urban mobilities and public space. Participants agreed on many points made and requested that more sessions be organized to help share views and contribute to learning and peer-exchanges.

In the month of May, nine Urban Thinkers Campus sessions have been organized. A session on the theme: ‘Reporting during pandemics’ will be held on 29 May. For more information and to register go to

Article by Christine Auclair, UN-Habitat 
Photo Credit: (CC)