Designing the resilient post-pandemic city

The 2020 SEOUL DESIGN INTERNATONAL FORUM has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Jeremy Myerson (Professor Emeritus at the Royal College of Art)


As the world, which has achieved rapid urbanization, is struggling to adapt to extreme weather and the corona crisis, the question of whether cities can ensure the safety and well-being of all citizens has been put to a critical test. In the midst of today's high-impact change, urban planners, architects, policy makers and public health professionals all face the challenge of making cities more resilient.

What is the city's resilience? In a narrow sense, resilience refers to the ability to return to its original form after some negative event or influence, that is, to restore its original position or form. However, the resilience of cities means more of a role for them than being a healthier place for their citizens to live and work. Resilient cities must have the ability to anticipate the future and adjust health-related systems and designs accordingly. Therefore, when the term resilience is applied in terms of a healthy city, it can be seen that various aspects are accompanied.

1. The future of cities and the role of design after the pandemic
Today, when everyone is thinking about how to design a resilient city after the pandemic, it is a very important time to think about the future of the city. We need to discuss with interest how we can develop appropriate strategies to guide the future.
The 'Healthy City Design International Congress', held annually in London, was launched in 2017 with the aim of bringing city designers and public health experts together for citizen health. with a variety of activities. Cities affect the health of their citizens in a variety of ways, but city planners and designers tend to ignore health considerations at their own risk. They also make cities unhealthy places, putting more pressure on health facilities to address them.

Dr. John Snow's Map of London Cholera

The image above is a famous map of cholera in London. Dr. John snow discovered through medical discoveries that cholera was transmitted through water rather than through air, and realized that blocking the water pumps in Soho could stop the cholera epidemic. He used graphic design techniques to map the exact location of the water pumps in the area and where the deaths were, which prevented the cholera pandemic in Victorian London.

We know that the relationship between public health and architecture and design is very real and closely intertwined. Cities have responded to infectious diseases and cholera by clearing slums, opening public spaces and widening roads, while green spaces like New York's Central Park are designed to address public health concerns directly.

The image above is a design proposal for a socially distant public space (park). As such, today is the time to learn how to live in a new reality, adapt to it, and develop a design method that can respond flexibly.

2. The multidimensional meaning of resilience
What does resilience mean? In the dictionary definition, two meanings are intertwined. The first refers to the ability to quickly recover from difficulties, and the second refers to the ability of a material or object to regain its vitality, that is, the elasticity to jump again. We know that urban planners, architects, policy makers, and public health professionals need to have a voice in making cities more resilient in the face of change.

The concept of resilience is multidimensional. In a narrow sense, resilience means to quickly return from any negative or adverse event. Resilience refers to vitality, the ability to restore original position or form. Resilient cities must be able to do more than this, and function as healthy places to live and work. Resilient cities must have the ability to anticipate the future and adapt. The concept of resilience is therefore applied to urban design in many forms and aspects.

- health care resilience
Medical resilience is a very important area. We are currently experiencing a medical emergency through the coronavirus outbreak, either by building a new test and trace system, or by replacing existing health care resilience planning with new hospital cases being built. We are witnessing the next chapter of health care resilience.

- environmental resilience
And we have the challenge of environmental resilience to protect city dwellers from events such as fires and floods. With growing awareness of climate catastrophes, environmental concerns are becoming more common, and in fact a climate emergency is so near that we need to continue to pay more attention. The circumstances that follow the climate problem could soon come as a catastrophe for humanity even greater than the coronavirus.

- operational and technological resilience
The operational and technological resilience of running cities efficiently means, for example, that cities' public transport systems connect their workspaces to the global digital grid, enabling workers to access system on the road. In addition, in order to maintain the economic aspect of the city, we are building various systems, but now many of them are suspended because the work environment and city are paralyzed due to COVID-19 and many people are dispersed through quarantine or telecommuting.

- Social and community resilience
How can the design strategy of the built environment create more social connections for everyone? How can design improve air quality, reduce isolation, reduce inequality, provide green space and provide safe, affordable housing for communities? Related to this is the concept of social and community resilience.

- Food resilience

Regarding social and community resilience, the problem of food resilience has been discovered as life expectancy of the poorest in the US and UK has stagnated. How can cities take the initiative to provide citizens with fresh, locally produced food and take care of their health? How can you avoid what the experts call food deserts? Resilience isn't just about designing healthy cities. A healthy city is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a city with health support and leisure, well-being, safe social interaction and easy mobility, pride in its cultural identity, and easy access to all citizens. Due to the pandemic, there is a threat of infectious diseases.

- Citizens' health-centered resilience
Based on our extensive experience and our own research at RCA, we believe that urban planners, policy makers and designers need to focus on health itself rather than on health care, and we need a comprehensive approach to improving health. When it comes to health, proactive rather than reactive is more important. For example, new strategic initiatives for space can positively impact health and well-being, including how to utilize river canals and waterways to connect small, densely populated areas with greenery and local food, with proper preparation to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This could include planning for better resilience, such as having a way to cope.
Another important aspect of urban planning is transportation planning. How can we actively look for healthier alternatives to using a car? Current urban transport is highly dependent on automobiles, leading to air pollution, mental stress and obesity. We need to move in a more active way, and we can use more active means of transportation, such as biking and walking.

Active travel & New ways of working

Healthier homes & Healthier workplaces

In addition, it is necessary to reduce commuting time by creating an environment that is close to work, that is, compact cities, and support workers to achieve a life-work balance. After the pandemic is over, we must be able to return to a healthier working environment, so we need more break out areas, more biophilia, more light, better air quality and more outdoor space to promote health. 
The construction of new housing supports community exchange, special housing supports the aging population, and the form of smart housing is also conceivable, which facilitates telecommuting and care. Healthcare itself needs innovation. There is a need for a more modular and flexible medical architecture that introduces new technologies to support remote monitoring and other medical assistants, and these pop up medical facilities can meet local needs. 

redesigned ambulance

UK public toilet map

The image on the upper left is a redesign of an ambulance using digital technology at the RCA Research Center. This is a case where real-time information is shared as a treatment space inside an ambulance and a better treatment space is created. The image on the upper right is another project of ours, ‘The Great British Public Toilet Map’. This map is to make a national map that can be used by the public by indicating the location of public toilets using public data of local councils. We need to make better use of this data and predictive analytics to make cities more resilient.

3. The need for a more comprehensive approach to urban resilience
Key areas of urban planning and design need to make better use of university studies in particular. In particular, in the field of infrastructure and transportation, it is necessary to look into the future of electric, electric and autonomous vehicles. The Royal College of Arts (RCA) has done a lot of research in this area to explore how autonomous vehicles can support new jobs and the lives of communities. Nature in 2016 covered a range of agendas for not just health care, but a holistic approach to health care, and over the past four years, cities around the world have taken different steps to bring this agenda to life. In particular, a city-wide approach was attempted in order to green the urban space and prevent cars from entering the city center.
As cities become increasingly overcrowded and diversified, the burden on water energy and resource consumption is increasing, and difficulties will continue to arise in the future. Policy makers and planners must pay more attention than ever to the link between health inequality and social inequality. We hope to see the future of the city from a broader perspective, with a particular focus on resilience to become a city that focuses on inclusive health rather than just health care.

4. Urban design example of RCA
I would like to share the design case of Londonderry, another city of the Royal College of Art Research Center, Northern Ireland. The city has a history of sectarian tensions and violence, through which the river Foyle flows. Among the people, ‘Ready for the Foyle’ is a very famous expression. The Foil River is a famous place for suicide accidents, and the area is socially and economically weak. In 2016, the Helen Hamlyn center for design for the RCA received a request from the Northern Ireland Public Health Authority to reconstruct the condition of the Foil Riverside using design. Can design be used to improve areas related to poor emotional well-being? Can we make changes to riverbanks and bridges so that locals can live more vibrantly there? This was a civic project on a scale and there were numerous challenges.

We started by talking to the local communities along the way along the river and their futures. Various communities were involved, and suicide prevention strategies were established by drawing together the perceptions of the region. The riverfront has the potential to revitalize and address mental health issues in the community. We worked to revitalize the riverfront and improve the mental health of the community, and we designed a series of approaches to combine physical and non-physical barriers to drive increased visitor numbers.

4.1 Foyle Bubbles

These bubbles, dubbed 'Foyle Bubbles', are a series of satellite spaces designed for residential, artistic, commercial, educational and various welfare activities along the Foyle River. Mobile pods can be used by businesses and local businesses at low rental rates, and they receive compulsory mental health training. This means that daily mental health support and counseling are available around the river. People sell coffee, get a haircut, give advice, sell souvenirs and books, and get mental health awareness training. The appearance of 42 pods installed along the river and lit up looks like a necklace. By increasing the floating population in the area, natural monitoring is possible in the field.

4.2 Foyle Reeds

'Foil Reed' is a facility installed along an 864mm long bridge, inspired by natural reeds found in the surrounding landscape to create a physical suicide barrier along the bridge. This is a different solution than reinforcing the stigma of suicide by installing things like life bars or cages. The installation of 'foil reeds' has interactive lighting and visual features. Visitors can experience attractive sensory experiences through 12,000 digital reeds that change color and brightness. In addition, you can change the color of the reeds using the app on your smartphone, and you can feel the ownership of the reeds as individuals can purchase each reed one by one. This reed has made the Bridge of Suicide a very popular tourist attraction. It has become a visual icon that the community can relate to and has become the largest installation art in Northern Ireland. In 2018, we called this project ‘Our Future Foil’ and started implementing it by designing the research feasibility of the project and considering how to carry out the design plan. The Northern Ireland government has set up a new non-profit organization to invest in this new design-driven infrastructure, raising over £25 million. This invigorates tourism in the city and has a good influence, creating economic benefits.

This case demonstrates the power of design to intervene constructively in the city, and to recognize design as a strategy to make the city resilient in a holistic way. This, coupled with the fact that city health is very important in terms of commerce, business, mental health, community engagement, well-being, etc., has a positive effect on city health and resilience when design is involved. It shows that when design is involved, more than just providing health care services, it can create positive effects on city health and resilience.

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