How Asian cities can be more livable after the pandemic

Many lessons can be learned from the pandemic. While it has broadened our view of city resilience, we have also learned that there is no “one-size fits all” solution or approach to a national pandemic response.

With this in mind, Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Bambang Susantono emphasizes the need for Asian Cities to  not only build back better, but to also build forward better.

Here are some approaches that cities should consider to become more livable after the pandemic, according to Susantono:

Greater inclusion

Cities must create an environment that provides opportunities for the most vulnerable. This can be done by identifying the specific needs of women, the elderly, the poor, and people with disabilities

Susantono shared that cities working toward this goal are preparing programs that standardize core urban services for everyone, focus more sharply on social protection, and offer greater economic opportunities.

Better urban services and infrastructure

Cities can offer better  urban services and infrastructure by applying the best available technology, and provide digital solutions.

Susantono cited the case of the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority in Bangladesh as an example, as it now applies digital solutions and remote monitoring tools to improve the accessibility, quality, and reliability of urban services.

“Earth observation and space-based technologies help cities in Bangladesh and Indonesia to strengthen environmental sustainability and resilience by identifying the best location and design for new infrastructure. This also fosters better urban planning and can remotely monitor historical and future climate impacts,” he added.

Revisit urban planning systems

The ADB official said cities need to revisit their urban planning systems and strategically incorporate lessons learned from the pandemic.
He added that cities are developing an integrated, coordinated approach among government agencies, with participation of stakeholders in planning and implementation.

“For example, finding the optimum urban density for various land uses in a city-specific context can help to balance development,” he added.

Susantono cited Delhi in India as an example, as it prepares a long-term masterplan through 2041, where metros in Chennai and Bangalore use a transit-oriented development approach.

In addition, a well-coordinated, integrated regional railway system between Delhi and Meerut is being developed, while  transport corridors are being transformed into economic corridors along the east coast.

Strengthen financial sustainability and build governance capacity

The pandemic has brought unprecedented financial challenges to cities. This is why it is important for cities to strengthen their financial sustainability and build governance capacity.

Susantono emphasized that there is a need for cities to maximize revenues and optimize expenditures to stabilize their budgets, as well as adopt transparent, accountable, consistent, and coherent responses across all government levels when responding to shocks and stresses.

“Involving community-based groups is essential for better service delivery―and ultimately for citizen capacity-building,” Susantono said.

Healthy and environmentally sustainable urban areas

“A healthy and age-friendly city needs improved health systems, such as community and home-based care and smart health platforms to streamline health, medical and care services. It also needs a network of green spaces, and multi-modal and inclusive urban transport systems particularly for the elderly and children,” Susantono said.

The ADB official also said cities should develop principles that define how they can remain functional during crises. These include making health impact assessments, preparing age-friendly plans, and adopting systemic thinking on what constitutes a healthy and sustainable urban environment.

Resilient cities

The pandemic has emphasized the need for more resilient cities that can absorb the shocks and stresses that accompany pandemics, disasters, and climate change.

Susantono said city authorities must think systematically about safety and resilience, and then mainstream these ideas into urban governance.

“After the pandemic, cities will require climate-resilient delivery of core urban services, with effective disaster management and response plans in place…For example, better energy efficiency can reduce demand for conventional energy and increase access to heating and cooling for vulnerable groups,” he added.