“Post-pandemic cities: how Covid-19 can change urban planning” was the question that Javier Matilla Ayala, chief architect of Barcelona City Hall, Miguel Pinto Luz, Vice-President of Cascais Town Hall and Miguel Eiras Antunes, Global Leader for Smart Cities of Deloitte tried to answer.
“In Cascais we have a very solid urban planning that allows us, in situations like this, not to have to destroy everything. But this is due to a long strategy that allows us to be flexible today; that is, having to adapt to a new post-covid reality. I, for example, started baking bread at home. The distribution sector, schools, transportations, everything must be rethought” stressed Miguel Pinto Luz.
The use of public transportation in this pandemic period has been widely discussed and is one of the sectros that is suffering the most. Cascais, and the Lisbon Metropolitan Area are not an exception. “In the past two years, the Lisbon Metropolitan Area has been living a revolution of public transportation, registering an increase of 30% in users.
Now there was a major decrease and Cascais, which has a public transportation network free of charge, felt the same. We tackled that situation very early on, people felt that and now the curve is ascending. Not pre-covid numbers, but we are increasing. The ascending rhythm in the use of the private car is still bigger than the public transportation. Which keeps us worried about these numbers, not only for environmental issues, but also for a matter of time” explained Pinto Luz.
Cascais and Barcelona have more than 1.000Km between them, but this pandemic is making people in charge of urban matters in the Catalan capital, to also rethink their strategies. “Covid-19 is a kind of a magnifying glass of the problems that already existed in Barcelona. The environmental issue, for example: covid allowed us to see a city without noise, where we could actually smell the flowers. We have a city that, on the economic development point of view, has many tourists. We must have more economic and social balance in the city. We also have to have incentives for the use of public transportation. But we also must regain our right to health and that must be a priority in the urban policies” affirmed Javier Matilla Ayala, Chief Architect of the Barcelona City Hall.
“There are differences in the response to Covid-19 in Spanish cities, but there is also consistency, which is an unequal territorial distribution. For example, the northern part of Madrid is poorer than the southern part. Something that makes us think about urban distribution. We have to adapt public spaces to the new reality” continued the Catalan architect.
Another of the issues that were debated, is if the way cities reacted to the pandemic is a reflection of the country where they are at. Miguel Eiras Antines of Global Leader for Smart Cities of Deloitte doesn’t think this way: “What a city is, depends on its citizens, on its government. We have 90 thousand cities in the world, and each one of them is unique.”
For this specialist, Covid-19 affected every city the same way. “There was an attack on citizens’ public health, an attack on national and local economy, an attack on the business of government” continued Eiras Antunes, for whom “the priorities in mobility, health and even in the garbage distribution had to change”. But even if the pandemic affected cities the same way “there were some that were better prepared than others and reacted better. Cascais is an example of that” affirmed the Deloite representative. “The starting point was different to all, but the attack was equal”.
Looking at concrete examples, it’s clear that there are differences in the impact that Covid-19 had inside cities, mainly between urban areas with bigger or smaller income. Miguel Pinto Luz guaranteed this afternoon that Cascais was the Portuguese municipality that did most Covid-19 tests. “We have geo-referenced information of all the tests and we understood which areas were most affected. We understood that areas with a lower income rate have more Covid-19 pressure. Something that makes us think and act and change those differences. This is what we have to fight against” affirmed the Vice-President of Cascais Town Hall.
On the other hand, Madrid has been on the news exactly because of those differences, with the issue of confinement becoming a class war. In Barcelona the issue is also not that different. “Yes, the context is similar. In Barcelona, the impact has been unequal and with most impact in the popular neighborhoods. People living in these neighborhoods are those who use public transportation the most. And it’s also in these neighborhoods that there are smaller houses” explained Javier Matilla Ayal. “To change that is an open debate, such as to change the territorial structure” said Barcelona’s chief architect.
Are there cities that are urbanistically better than others? “I would say no. We will increasingly be living in cities, 70% of the world population will live in urban centers” answered Miguel Eiras Antunes. “The issue of remote working in cities will be a very relevant theme, the future will go in that direction. The use of technology in the city’s daily life it’s inevitable and there is a need for investment, which can go through public-private partnerships and European funds” continued the specialist in smart cities.
Eiras Antunes called into attention the need for an “interoperability for the de-burocratization”, not only of services, but also between cities. A project in which the European Union is already working on.
Another inevitable path is the one towards the sustainability of cities. “The European Union wants, by 2030, 100 cites to be carbon-neutral. At this moment, cities are responsible for 75% of carbon emission” informed Eiras Antunes.
In the opinion of Global Leader for Smart cities of Deloitte, the post-pandemic future “can be an opportunity for cities in the country due to smart-working “The theme “Work from Portugal” should be a government bet. Companies are betting on the work from anywhere strategy and why not being that destination Portugal? Something that would also lead to an urban change” suggested.
Will Covid-19 change the way local political power thinks about urban policies, even to avoid the perpetuation of those urban blocks that have been more affected by the pandemic? “We are already in the process of reviewing our Directorial Municipal Plan. We have to bet in spaces such as urban vegetable gardens, agriculture, in order to have supply possibilities closer to urban centers, for example” refereed the Vice-President of Cascais, stating that the town “has been feeling a pendular movement of people who want to leave Lisbon and come to live in Cascais”.
Javier Matilla Ayala defended that “cities will continue to be the answer, but there will have to be a better city.” “We have to change public space, we have to leave the asphalt. We should prepare a public space more adapted to older people and children. We should also improve the living conditions since we don’t have smart buildings” underlined the chief architect of Barcelona City Hall.