The new challenge of smart cities

One of the many findings brought about by the outbreak of the new coronavirus is that modern cities, where we live, were not built to face a pandemic. In this century, we have already gone through the outbreaks of Sars, Mers, Ebola, H1N1, and now Covid-19. If, as it seems, we are now an era of pandemics, cities, as well as the economy and labor relations, will have to undergo major transformations.

At the beginning of the 19th century, after epidemic outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis, typhus, and smallpox, the so-called hygienist movement emerged, establishing standards and measures based on health aspects. It was the origin of sanitation systems and even ventilation patterns and natural lighting in closed environments. The planning of our cities has always reflected prevailing cultural and technological trends and many urban solutions were born in response to health crises.

We have come a long way, but the need to include health and well-being aspects in cities is continuous. As centers of commerce and businesses densely populated, highly mobile, and fully connected, cities represent an enormous risk for the transmission of diseases.  How do we, for example, keep circulation in open areas safe so that streets, squares, and parks do not become prohibited areas in a pandemic?

The reinvention of the cities

Solutions that allow for quick adaptations to housing and transportation systems should be the norm. An example during the current pandemic was the construction of the hospital   Wuhan Volcan  , with a capacity for 1.000 beds. The construction with prefabricated metal structures, created after the Second World War in the effort to rebuild Europe did not use new technologies and was done in record time. The ability to quickly erect temporary structures capable of housing thousands of people, sick or healthy, will be essential. But we need to go further, creating alternatives for transportation and distribution of essential products such as food and medical supplies. Like us, cities will have to be reinvented in crises.

Technology has always had an impact on the development of cities and will continue to have. Digital platforms collect people’s geographic location, habits, and preferences. With this data, the previously invisible dimensions of urban life have become visible and can be used for city planning. For this purpose, the information generally and currently available nationwide should be more segmented since, in a pandemic, most decisions need to be made locally to contain the disease.

Apparently, the Covid-19 pandemic has added a new and complex challenge to the concept of smart cities.