Cities will endure and adapt beyond pandemic, say forum panellists

The Covid-19 pandemic may have altered urban life, with social distancing, mask wearing and restrictions on gatherings likely to continue for a while.

But the disease has not spelt the end for cities, which will endure and adapt, panellists at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum said yesterday.

Cities are where communities come together, but this very quality became dangerous during the pandemic, hastening the spread of Covid-19. It has led to questions about the future of cities in a post-Covid-19 world.

Singapore's former chief city planner, Mr Liu Thai Ker, speaking at the forum, said it was too early to predict the demise of cities.

He stressed that the pandemic should be just one of dozens of factors to consider in planning a city in future.

He also said that while the details of urban living will have to be tweaked a little, urban planners should not be too hasty in changing things and tearing down buildings.

"The nature of shopping centres today and a decade ago are slightly different, but the need for shopping centres at a par-ticular place didn't change," he said at a dialogue moderated by Mr Kieran Long, the director of ArkDes, Sweden's National Centre for Architecture and Design.

"As a planner, we have to plan the city as a kind of permanent creation... You must understand the basic need of people and the land."

In fact, wars and diseases have shaped cities throughout history, and yet cities have endured.

This point was underscored at a separate panel discussion on Reimagining the Urban Envi-ronment by Professor Chan Heng Chee of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, who is also Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large.

She noted that London and Paris are cities which have undergone many changes over the years.

She also said there is a need to differentiate between cities, adding that cities in Europe and the United States, and rich and poor cities, will face different challenges in recovering from the pandemic.

A fellow panellist at the session, Mr Yu Liang, founding partner and board chairman of Chinese developer Vanke, suggested that cities need to be established as self-sustaining units so that when there is a disaster, the entire system will not be affected.

This will help cities better address challenges in future, he said.

Ultimately, communities and the relationships between people living in cities are what makes cities resilient, the panellists agreed.

Ms Sarah Friar, chief executive officer of Nextdoor, a social networking app for neighbourhoods, said research has shown that just knowing at least six neighbours will have a significant impact on a person's health. She added that during a crisis, it is not family mem-bers and friends that people depend on, but those living in their community.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2021, with the headline 'Cities will endure and adapt beyond pandemic, say forum panellists'. Subscribe