As we start thinking of living in the post-COVID world, there are diverse perspectives on how cities can better respond to the current and future crises. There is a rise in demand for living within close proximities so that one can ‘walk from home’ to workplace and essential services to avoid dependency on public transport.
Over the course of the last few weeks, governments around the world are working to assess the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the economy. At an individual level, we are all trying to understand how the pandemic will leave a mark on us. Already, there has been a huge shift in our approach to work and life. Our lifestyle and consumption patterns have undergone a change. Old routines have given way to new habits. Once the current pandemic is over, life in cities as we know it will change and; the changes that will come around will be long-term.
As we start thinking of living in the post-COVID world, there are diverse perspectives on how cities can better respond to current and future crises. It brings us to think how one can meet the need for health emergencies, connectivity during the crisis and availability of basic facilities that would be the need of the hour. There are many examples in history of how disease outbreaks have led to innovations in urban design. The designing of the Central Park in New York City is one of them. In the US, during the Industrial Revolution, cities became densely populated. As residential areas started getting crammed, people began to worry about the spread of diseases. There was a huge demand for buildings and outdoor areas that offered ample fresh air and sunlight. This led to the emergence of a number of public parks, including the Central Park.
In the current context, it is not just cities, but also the real estate industry will have to incorporate design innovations in their projects.
Even before the pandemic, there was a push for the real estate industry to think of innovative solutions for urban living. More and more people would be limiting themselves to a safe enclosed environment. Shifting demographics are expected to create specialized residential and commercial options, depending on local and cultural differences. COVID-19 has now added to the fundamental challenge of incorporating design innovations to meet the demands of a closed gated community offering the solution of work, play, and live within walking distance. Experts say that office space will not lose its importance as it helps in cultivating the culture quotient of the organisation and thus ‘work from home’ will co-exist. In fact there will be a growing demand for more office space for companies to adhere to social norms and work near home will be a growing concept in coming times. With the consumer consumption pattern changing, soon will we see a growing demand of ecosystems that provides office, school, essential services all in close proximity so residents can ‘walk from home’ to each one of them.
This is where I believe integrated townships can play a crucial role.
Integrated townships are towns within a town. These townships are planned and created to be self-sustaining for day-to-day living. Building a township is integrally based on planning and governance. It is crucial to combine technical infrastructure and processes intelligently to serve its citizens. The concept of ‘Live-Work-Play’ is only effective where there is an implementation of strong governance.
In our smart city development in KDMC region, during the time of crisis, the governing body was quick to implement precautionary measures way ahead of time and be ahead of the curve. This was possible as there was a strong existing system and governance in place, which further made it easier for citizens to enjoy a happy environment and assist them with most of their requirements. With only 20% of manpower in place, the town was fully functional. There was an immediate implementation of precautionary and prevention methods with security patrols, spraying disinfectants and multiple prevention method only due to the existing strong governance.
Neighbourhoods in such smart cities are meticulously planned with instant access to aspects like security, sanitation and availability of essential commodities. Smart systems and processes intertwined with human interface helps in regulation and management of electricity, water supply, security with minimum work force on the ground.
The development which is built around the concept of Live-Work-Learn-Play, is designed and planned in a manner so that one can ‘walk from home’ to all essential services including grocery stores, medical facilities, schools and work place. Apart from looking at essential services, the township is built with great detailing that caters to needs of all age groups and their convenience, like form entertainment, malls, sports facilities to open spaces like parks, walking tracks, etc. within walking distance. There are reputed schools within the integrated development to nurture students across the region. Most importantly, the smart city houses a business district that allows residents living and working in the locality risk free access during such testing times.
In my opinion, there will a rise of satellite offices in suburbs or extended MMR region as corporates prioritize employee health and wellness while ensuring business continuity as employees can walk from home to work and avoid dependence on public transport. HDFC Palava branch is a classic example of how offices will function in the future. Since a large number of its workforces stays in the smart city, the bank did not face challenge in business continuity. Employees could walk to work while the townships governance ensured sanitization protocols in the office keeping the safety of its employees as a priority.
Finally, beyond the conveniences and tailored solutions, integrated living offers a sense of community. A significant realization during these trying times is that we are interconnected more than ever. To feel part of a closely-knit social fabric is a source of comfort in times like these. The fact that all residents in our townships were virtually connected even before the pandemic hit us has helped them reach out and support one another easily at the time of lockdown. I have seen 1 lakh residents come together to serve themselves and take care of each other in an organised way and diligently follow the social norms charted by the government bodies.
It might still be too early to say how things will look in a post-COVID world. The future of countries, cities and individuals depends on a number of factors, including how governments and societies respond to the coronavirus and its aftermath. However, what is certain is that we will witness changes that will be for the long term. Hopefully, we can use lessons from this crisis to rebuild and create cities that are better, stronger and ready for the future.
(By Shaishav Dharia – Business CEO –Townships and Annuity Assets, Lodha Group)