Sri Lanka’s Town Planners urge for a fresh approach in urban planning by taking up the unprecedented challenges as well as opportunities posed by the global pandemic disrupting daily life and lifestyles in cities and towns across the country.
“There is no debate that urban areas are the most affected, irrespective of their sizes, be they mega-cities or small towns, and where they are located. On one hand their inhabitants are engulfed in an untold fear and uncertainty, while on the other, their otherwise vibrant spaces and festive environments have lost lives. People who enjoyed the company of the public realm, now shy away leaving them lifeless and eerily quiet,” Institute of Town Planners Sri Lanka, President and Former Urban Development Authority (UDA), Chairman, Dr. Jagath Munasinghe stated in his message celebrating the World Town Planning Day 2020.
However, he pointed out that the Covid-19 lockdowns in urban areas triggered the adoption of information and communication technology ushering in a new set of working conditions for many.
“Working from home, for business operators, their employees, and students, is already becoming the new trend. Moreover, many people may be more than happy to spend more time with their families. The versatility of information and communication technology is being realized by many those who might have been skeptical of its potentials in the recent past,” he added.
Consequently, it also resulted in reduced daily commuters and reduced traffic flows and congestions usually experienced in city streets.
Further, he highlighted the shift towards e-commerce, hygienic practices and healthy lifestyles have also accelerated during the period, which must be taken into consideration in future urban planning.
“Cleanliness, minimalism, and simplicity are given priority over glamour, flamboyance, and vanity. Will these features and practices continue into the awaiting ‘new normal’? Who would say that these are not positive signs of healthy and sustainable societies and necessary requisites envisaged in the planning of cities and towns in the future?” he stated.
However, he stressed that the town and city planners as well as policymakers must take measures to ensure equal opportunities for all in urban areas in this ‘new normal’, which would otherwise drive up the inequality in these urban areas further upwards.
“We need to understand that those who work from home, enjoy that luxury at the expense of those who have to stay online or at service 24 x 7, in healthcare services, essential supplies, security, police and municipal services and they are experiencing hard times. In that sense, the new questions we should be asking include, how do we create equality and a fair distribution of work, so that everyone has near-equal opportunities to ease out and work from home, or at the very least, adapt to the new normal,” he added.