Use Covid-19 pandemic to replan our cities

Wednesday October 13 2021

Wilson Awuzu

By Guest Writer

With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, many players mainly led by the scientific community have continuously assessed the nature of the virus. For instance its modes of transmission,  socio-economic and environmental impacts.

Urban planners and managers  on the other  hand have embarked on the  quest to find solutions to the pandemic by planning and executing pandemic-resilient city planning and management methods . 

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 11 focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. 

However, it’s evidently clear that urban environments  worldwide have increasingly become exclusive and unsafe, more so due to the pandemic.  For instance, in Europe more than where 20.6  percent  of the population is aged 65 and above, urban space had become a no go zone for the elderly. Thanks to the vaccines, life is slowly returning to the streets.

Throughout history, epidemics and pandemics have induced new innovations in the urban agenda. Fighting cholera epidemics in the 1800s in Europe, for example, necessitated the building of new plumbing and sewer systems and resulted into enactment of “new” zoning laws to prevent overcrowding (Adele, 2020). 

As Klaus (2020) noted, “disease shapes cities. Some of the most iconic developments in urban planning and management, such as London’s Metropolitan Board of Works and mid-19th century sanitation systems were developed in response to public health crises such as cholera outbreak. 


These are revelations strongly link the urban phenomenon to disease incidence and how urban planning has been used as a tool to address the odds of epidemics. 

Acuto (2020) contended that, “the intersection of urban design and public health is an increasingly critical territory”. 

Modern urban planning emerged in the latter part of the 19th Century, mainly in response to rapidly growing, chaotic and polluted cities in Western Europe as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The emergence of urbanisation was largely as a result of epidemics.

Accordingly, urban planning and public health were linked with English sanitary movement of the 1840s. Urban planners were required to design schemes to improve sanitation conditions in residential areas and work places. Other efforts sought after were separation of land-use activities, especially residential areas from industrial zones.  Other land use plans were designed to separate people infected by contagious diseases from the rest of the population. The use of isolation facilities in Uganda (for instance Kumi Leprosy Centre established in 1929) during the colonial times followed these doctrines. 

The first institution established to handle Physical Planning in Uganda, the Town Planning Board (TPB), was more concerned with health issues. This was on the recommendation of Prof Simpson, a planning expert, who was sent by the colonial administration to examine Uganda’s towns and make recommendations. 

In March 2020, Uganda recorded its first case of Covid-19 since then, the country has gone through two  phases of lockdown to contain the spread of the virus.

A lockdown, in many countries, created opportunities for proactive systems to address urban planning and management challenges – especially to explore the implementations of plans and policies that largely remained unimplemented due to continuous contention or occupation of such spaces and facilities by a section of the population.

Countries such as Spain and Italy effectively used urban planners/designers and managers to transform urban environment as part of the solutions to address the pandemic.

Uganda’s urban planners and managers could and can certainly make an indelible mark and indisputable contribution to the fight against the pandemic by instituting mechanisms based on urban planning and management principles. 

Certainly there is need to engage the government and other stakeholders to realise and recognise the contribution of urban planning in tackling pandemics.  Many leaders and policy makers might not know that, urban planning provides pragmatic solutions in curtailing and managing pandemics as was the case in Europe during industrial revolution. To provide that “hidden” planning niche, urban planners need to come out and demonstrate the immense contribution of their profession.

Wilson Awuzu is an urban planner. 

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