Pandemic learnings: how can cities be better prepared?

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact in the crowded urban settlements, which are often devoid of proper infrastructure. Thus it is imperative to shift the focus towards developing sustainable, resilient and liveable cities for the future.


It is quite evident that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people living in crowded urban settlements more than the ones residing in rural provinces. Whether it is food, housing, livelihoods, public transport, infrastructure or the economy as a whole, the health crisis is having a detrimental impact on multiple spheres of life.

While we are still in the process of understanding its consequences, it is important to reflect and learn from them on a periodic basis.

Preparing cities for the future

If we have to fight till the end or tackle another such one in the future, the focus needs to be on developing sustainable, resilient and livable cities.

Some of the elements that necessitate our attention includes -

1 - Improving quality of life

According to a report published by NSS in 2019, around 26 to 37 million households in India live in temporary and informal dwellings, often lacking even the most basic amenities. Inadequate hygiene, substandard water facilities and lack of nutritious food is an everyday struggle.

At a time when washing hands, sanitising and other safety protocols is being considered crucial to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the underprivileged population are not able to follow them due to these limitations.

Washing hands is crucial to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Representation image (Image credit: Unsplash)

2 - Modifying public places and urban centres

The WHO states that physical inactivity, poor walkability and lack of access to recreational areas account for 3.3 percent of the deaths across the world. According to estimates from 2010, 23 percent of adults and 81 percent of adolescents (between the ages of 11 to 17 years) do not meet the WHO global recommendations when it comes to physical activity and health.

So, to facilitate movement even while practicing social distancing, cities like Bogota in Colombia and New York in the US are adopting healthier transit options. Some of these include connecting bike lanes, suspending transport fares and shutting down streets from vehicular traffic.

Improving the cycling infrastructure in Bogota is not just reducing traffic congestion and improving air pollution levels in the city, it is also making citizens healthier (Image credit: World Economic Forum)

Though India has its own infrastructural and environmental challenges, more street space for pedestrians is essential for socially distanced mobility, especially in response to COVID-19.

3 - Ensuring food security

Consumer hoarding, disrupted transportation and low production are a few deficiencies plaguing the Indian food industry. The solution to these issues can be obtained through self-sufficiency and self-reliance or ‘atma nirbharta’ as they call it.

Today, cities like Havana in Cuba and Berlin in Germany stand as an example for this. Agriculture occupies 46 percent of the land area in Havana and the produce received from it is distributed in schools, hospitals and universities at subsidized prices. Even families grow their own fruits and vegetables in their backyards, balconies and rooftops for direct consumption.

Urban farming examples in Havana, Cuba (Image credit: Fotodocument)

Berlin on the other hand boasts of over 80,000 household organic vegetable gardens. If more and more individuals begin cultivating their own produce, India too can secure its food production.

In the last two decades, we have seen SARS, bird flu, swine flu, Ebola, and now COVID-19. So, it is imperative to build mechanisms to cope with these periodic health catastrophes. Safe, healthy and habitable spaces is one of the most important aspects that needs attention among others.

Illustration by Jyothi Syam

The Resilient Cities Initiative

In 2017, the Rockefeller Foundation chose four cities in India, namely, Surat, Chennai, Pune and Jaipur as part of their 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative with an aim to make urban spaces strong and flexible and more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges.

Saurabh Gaidhani, associate director at 100RC, says, “Pune, Chennai, Surat and Jaipur can learn from their global peers as well as one other. For example, Surat’s health system is a role model that others can emulate.”

Major challenges faced by the four cities as per Rockefeller Foundation’s 100RC initiative. (Image credit: Financial Express)

Pune’s Municipal Commissioner, Kunal Kumar, who has represented India in the City Leader Advisory Committee of the 100RC programme opines that the programme offers cities a great platform to prove themselves against potential future shocks.

Speaking for his home city, Kumar says, “Pune will be able to lay out a roadmap for resilience by engaging with a wide range of stakeholders and identifying priorities, to create actionable outcomes.”

However, these efforts are not enough to reach the destination. Going by the burgeoning rate at which urbanisation is taking place, new challenges are expected to strike. Moreover, the pandemic has exposed multiple risks related to population explosion, migration, pollution and WASH infrastructure. Timely and consistent endeavours to improve the quality of lives of people is key.


Edited by Roshni Shroff


Some resources and links to help you learn more on building resilient cities post-pandemic:

  1. Building Pandemic Resilient Cities in India

  2. Urban resilience: Why should we pay more attention? | ORF

  3. Rockefeller Foundation picks Chennai, Pune, Surat, Jaipur in 100 Resilient cities list; here is why