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Urban Planning and Building and Public Health

The public health crisis and Covid-19 continues to be a main topic of focus. How will sustainable practices protect the environment and how will the changes needed to guard public health complement or contradict each other? Cities will especially grapple with this question, as urban planners adapt infrastructures and building guidelines to continue to be environmentally friendly but also promote practices that save lives. Some solutions may enable both in the future.

Lifestyle changes

Over the long term, we will certainly see more people making changes in how they commute and work. One shining example? Media outlets around the world are reporting an increase in bike purchases and maintenance. Plus, employers and employees have now seen firsthand that home office and distance working may even be more efficient and productive than going into the office every day. These two shifts in thinking not only benefit public health but obviously lead to less car traffic and pollution.

Smart urban planning is good for you

Cities around the world have already discovered the many ways that smart technologies, the Internet of Things, and harnessing big data can improve the quality of life in urban settings and ensure viability as populations boom in megacities. These same technologies that help direct traffic, recommend best routes, prevent congestion, and collect insight from residents can also help track infections or rapidly inform people of infection hotspots.

But cities will not just make “more room” for digitization, but also for pedestrians and bikers. Plans already in place to shift space reserved for cars to people on wheels or bikes have fast-forwarded in the wake of the pandemic. Paris is fast-tracking long-distance bike lanes. Brussels is moving forward with inner-city zones for bikers and walkers. Milan’s new bike lanes leave little doubt that the city will prioritize cars less.

Another “lane” of transportation that may be explored further? Expanding the use of moving walkways on a city-wide level. One study by the Swiss Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne determined that with today’s technology, 7,500 pedestrians per hour could be moved. All these alternatives to motorized traffic are especially important in recent months, as air pollution is linked to a higher death rate in COVID-19 patients.

Generally, as it becomes clearer that enclosed gathering spaces with poor ventilation like clubs, churches, concert halls, and stadiums promote infection spread, we see more people seeking each other out in public, open spaces, and cities will certainly find ways to protect and build on open green spaces where residents can congregate safely.

Built-in health

While many people will be able to adopt more home office work styles, many others will have to return to buildings and shared spaces. Practices for “healthier” buildings are already known, but the recent pandemic could be the stressor that brings about real change. In the past, buildings have aimed for a LEED certificate. Now they will also aim for the International WELL Building Institute certificate. Architects and builders will strive to achieve better air, safer design, smarter materials, and fewer bottlenecks.

It’s in the air

One improvement that all agree must come immediately is more effective air ventilation. Buildings must be able to effectively increase the rate at which air inside is replaced with air from outside. This can be done with very basic measures like cross-ventilation through windows or by installing sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, and air quality. In general, all maintenance systems, including water filtration, need to be checked for optimal accessibility and regularly cleaned.

“Like never before, we are all united in finding ways to live in cities and communities which are not harmful to the environment. We are also committed to using our innovative mindset to apply the solutions we are so passionate about at thyssenkrupp Elevator to help ensure public health and peace of mind.” Paula Casares Medrano, Head of Sustainability at thyssenkrupp Elevator

Design that makes all the difference

No one is quite sure yet how building design will change in the future but, as in urban planning, many blueprints for climate-friendly and healthier buildings exist which can now be brought center stage.

A typical company office will probably no longer promote open-office floor plans, but work areas or niches that combine improved natural lighting and good ventilation with high-tech materials on which bacteria or viruses don’t survive long or which are nonporous and can be cleaned in a single swipe. We will see fewer handles and more automatic doors.

Predictive maintenance solutions like MAX for seamless elevator service have already proven to building facility managers the potential of harnessing digital technology to improve the quality of life in an enclosed space. Predictive analytics can keep people moving through a building, avoiding crowds or back-ups where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Getting residents from A to B quickly, efficiently, and with a dose of enjoyment will also be key. Not everyone will want to use an underground service or venture on to a crowded street. Alternatives can be found, for example, in skybridges between buildings and innovative solutions like MULTI elevators which can transport passengers not only up and down but left and right.

Atlanta is an urban mobility hotspot. That’s why we chose this hub for the location of our “Innovation and Qualification Center for Urban Mobility Solutions” which will be completed in 2021. This 128-meter-high test tower for elevators will set new standards in research. Since Atlanta experiences a construction boom as well, our state-of-the-art TWIN elevator technology is already being operated in the Coda Building.

What’s good for the earth is good for us all

With a bit of innovation and the will to change, we can continue to support urbanization that is more energy-efficient and good for the climate while facilitating measures that prevent the spread of infection. There is a strong feeling that the time is now to finally initiate sustainable, long-term change that not only benefits the environment but urban living that is safe for all.