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Living in the "New Normal" and Future of Cities (2020)

No one has ever thought that cities and societies have to change from the ground up as the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has infected mi...

No one has ever thought that cities and societies have to change from the ground up as the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has infected millions of people and taking thousands of lives along the way. We have reached an unprecedented stage in human history where every layer of society has been peeled thereby exposing us from various internal and external factors that would implode our collective security and cohesion brought about by this invisible enemy.

It's not something new as we have always faced these sort of pandemic throughout history. However, this time, humanity is at the crossroads since we have grown so much that most of our entire population is now living in densely-populated urban areas. Such areas have limited space that cities have to enforce specific policies, laws, and regulations to ensure that it would efficiently function the way organisms do.

The disruptions brought about by this pandemic has forced governments to do something draconian that would reverse all the functions cities normally do. Social distancing policies are the complete ant-thesis to city and urban living.

Smart Cities in the 'New Normal'

Some experts may say that the adoption of digital and smart city technologies would help cities adjust to the so-called "New Normal." However, not all cities are lean and agile enough to catch up with it. In fact, most cities are still using old and inefficient systems to govern and manage resources. Crumbling and antiquated infrastructures need to be upgraded but many cities are cash-strapped and plagued by inherent corruption that even simple public works project takes a lot of time to complete.

Futurists and visionaries even have their own doomsday predictions that our lives would be changed in an instant and we will live in a different world. They may be right and perhaps our politicians have dropped the ball by not heeding to their warnings and prepared for that eventuality. Now it's too late!

All the advanced industrialized nations like the United States, European Union, China, Japan, and South Korea have fallen on their knees. Even with all their vast and almost unlimited resources, the pandemic has effectively ravaged their countries like no invading army could ever do. When we overcome and survive this deadly virus, perhaps we may wake up where everything we do would be reinvented so that even talking to your neighbor would now involve unprecedented steps like wearing face masks, mandatory temperature checks, and maintaining social distance. Everything we take for granted would mean much more emphasis on collective health and security.

We are social animals and the cities where we live reflect the people that live on it. Cities rise and grow because of human interaction and socialization and the absence of those would be like living in a city without a soul!

Smart Cities in Local Setting

Even with great plans, not all cities can become smart cities. Manila once had the best urban plans in Asia when Daniel Burnham (1846–1912) proposed his vision of what the city would be like. At that time, the Americans just took over the Philippines from Spain (1898–1945), so it was patterned after European cities with carefully grid-patterned streets with avenues radiating on key areas while tree-lined boulevards to allow heavy traffic. However, his brilliant plan got scrapped. Fast-forward to the end of World War 2, Manila was one of the most devastated cities after Warsaw and the atomic-bombed Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Now, the city is home to over 15 million people with streets packed by jeepneys, buses, and street vendors thereby making it one of the most congested cities in the world.

The case for a smarter city may be a bit too late as there is a need to reinvent the city layer by layer with the removal of slum areas while reinforcing urban renewal plans on blighted areas brought about by urban decay. But with varying policies implemented by the various component cities of Metro Manila, it will be never done. And so, the only solution is building a new city from scratch like the case of the New Clark City in Central Luzon.

Smart cities can only be successful with clear future plans from stakeholders and disciplined participation by the people. At the end of the day, success is measured by the sum of all its parts.

An old city with antiquated urban plans would take time to reinvent itself as a smart city.

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