The Corona crisis is shaking up life around the world. In the middle of the pandemic, no one yet knows what the long-term consequences will be. One of many exciting questions: What will our cities look like after Corona? Will the concept of the Smart City change? What influence will the corona virus have on the tight housing market, on trade, traffic or on urban planning? Smart City expert Dr. Frank Friesecke is an authorized signatory of STEG, one of the largest urban development companies in Germany. In our series “The Smart City after Corona” he answers burning questions.
How have you yourself experienced the past few months under the influence of Corona?
As a person born in the 1970s, I can only think of reunification and September 11, which led to similar radical changes. However, the personal impact of the pandemic is even greater, as private and public life has changed significantly since March 2020.
I miss the personal contacts with family and friends, but also the opportunity to attend great events in the region. In this strange time I suddenly realize how important the own living environment, local supply, but also parks and public places are. Especially in the dense city, even if Stuttgart is considered a particularly green metropolis, the pandemic is more bearable if it is attractive to go outdoors: for pedestrians, for cyclists, for joggers or for a walk to the bakery.
From a professional perspective, we at STEG can consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to support cities and municipalities in precisely these processes of change, i.e. the redesign of public space, the support of private owners in the energy-efficient renovation of their buildings, the development of building land in tight housing markets. Support programmes such as the urban development subsidy or the rural development programme play a major role in this.
Especially the use of these support programmes will become even more important during and after the Corona crisis, as the cities and municipalities will lose a lot of income, including trade tax.
Corona will therefore change our cities. What effects do you see from the perspective of urban planning?
Cities have changed constantly, but the current pandemic is a particular challenge to the resilience of our society and especially our cities. On the other hand, however, coping with it also triggers processes of change that offer a wide range of opportunities for sustainable urban development.
There is always an opportunity in the crisis. Living and working will move closer together again, our mobility behaviour is currently being put to the test, the demand for regional products is enormous. The digitalisation of administrations is also experiencing a boost; presumably the majority of us see advantages in extending our passports online and being able to view the development plan on the Internet.
Thus, unintentionally, the Corona crisis has become a kind of real laboratory for the city of the future. Now it is important to draw the right conclusions for the city to Corona.
So what will the city of the future look like? How pandemic-proof will it have to be?
In all the basic functions of existence for urban society, i.e. living, working, supply and mobility, we are faced with far-reaching changes – from the point of view of urban planning, however, this situation is not new, just think of the situation in our cities after the Second World War or the neglected inner cities in the GDR era.
Consequently, urban development and spatial planning do not have to be reinvented in this crisis, but once again a rethink is required. The city of the future will be more digital and hopefully more sustainable than before, and it must also become more resistant to future pandemics.
From the point of view of urban decision-makers, it will be essential to review the resilience of a city or infrastructure in the light of such events. Adaptation concepts have so far mainly referred to natural disasters such as floods and heat waves, but not to epidemics and, in the worst case, pandemics. This applies equally to the creation or rehabilitation of residential or office space and to the redesign of roads, paths, squares and public green and open spaces.
All in all, it will be important to be willing to experiment with the losses that have also been hinted at, i.e. to see the crisis as an opportunity for future urban and transport planning. Once again, the actors involved are decisive for the design of the post-Corona city. Municipal decision-making power is important, but so is civil society involvement in the search for a small-scale solution in each neighbourhood.
In the next episodes of the GEOMNIBUS series “The Smart City after Corona”, you can read about the concrete effects of the Corona crisis on urban planning, housing, traffic and trade.
Part 2: Urban housing markets
Interview: die STEG
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