Lockdown Blues: Is Our Social and Urban Planning Faulty? 

Humans desire above all to build a dream house and settle inside creating good memories; that is why they work hard and invest heavily. However, during the lockdown, man has experienced great degrees of discomfort and resentment, despite getting the chance to do what he always wanted to.

Is it some fault in urban planning, architecture or interior design which is making people unhappy inside their four walls? Is it perhaps the absence of good terraces, windows or access to views of the neighborhood?

Two months after Chinese authorities locked down Wuhan, the city at the centre of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Chinese. Hubei province is lifted travel restrictions in the capital city of Wuhan starting April 8, which ended a lockdown that began on January 2. Meanwhile, 3.5 billion people of the world, or half of the global population, is now in one way or the other under lockdown. 

In the last few weeks, COVID-19 has spread to over 190 countries in a global pandemic that has killed more than over one lakh. Countries starting from the USA, UK, Italy, Spain and Iran are struggling to contain the virus, with large cities shutting down schools and public places, or issuing stay-at-home orders.

While the world is reeling under the pandemic, some countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Germany seem to be taking the epidemic in their stride with a either a limited number of cases or a low number of deaths, thanks to factors like large-scale testing, quarantining and social distancing.

Recently, World Health Organisation (WHO) started using the term “physical distancing” instead of ‘social distancing’ as they still want people to remain connected. According to WHO epidemiologist, Maria Van Kerkhove in the organization’s March 20 daily press briefing, social distancing, which refers to creating physical space between one another and avoiding large gatherings, comes from the public health and epidemiology lexicon and is semantically misleading. It tends to make some people misinterpret the term, implying a mindset of “if I had friends or if I were a member of a church or synagogue, it’s time to hunker down and pray by myself’. 

Nations across the globe are asking residents to stay at home as local governments issued regulations shutting down “non-essential” businesses including pubs, restaurants, parks, stadiums and other venues of leisure and recreation, not for a world war but to safeguard their residents from the pandemic.

Perhaps COVID 19 is a wake-up call for those involved in the building industry including urban planners, architects, engineers, interior designers, etc, to investigate the source of these issues at a deeper level and find solutions since no one knows how many lockdowns we will require in the times to come.

In India, more than 1.3 billion people are now under lockdown during the four-week period and Indian citizen are not allowed to leave their homes to socialize or work, except those working in healthcare, law enforcement, media and other essential services in order to slow down the spread of coronavirus. 

Odisha has been at the forefront of the COVID 19 problem by going for lockdown ahead of the nation, incentivising registration of foreign nationals on return and setting up state-of-the-art medical facilities to deal with challenges in line with the Wuhan model. 

However, with the border lock, the government could have isolated those one lakh or so travellers on arrival from other states and foreign soil, instead of allowing them self-isolation without surveillance. This later put the authorities in a predicament as they had to locate and contain the rogue patients that violated the restrictions imposed on them. As a result, we have the whole state locked down, virtually like a communist model implemented by the Chinese. And this method is being used for the whole democratic world including India.

Drone lockdown coronavirus spray disinfect bhubaneswar Perhaps the eastern state missed an opportunity by not following the example of South Korea, Germany, Taiwan and Singapore. While comparing the statistics of cities like Bhubaneswar, Puri and Sambalpur with Rome, New York or London, may seem like uplifting news, the reality is that this is not a scientific way of calculating the efficacy of containing the pandemic.   

What really should be considered in urban planning of future Bhubaneswar is how the city could provide the best even in worst situations, like building most efficient healthcare facilities for residents; perhaps a quarantine is really something that every city should make a priority when planning a Smart City.

Be it Odisha or Bhubaneswar, a move needs be made that goes beyond rudimentary solutions and outdated theories, one that will set the standard for the ‘Best Practices’ in healthcare and social welfare.

No modern city would die because of a crisis. Hence there is no need for Bhubaneswar to panic. Rather it should be alert. We should hope that slowly the Temple City will bounce back and become more sustainable and stronger with resilient people and lockdown will pass off as history.


(The author is an urban planner)

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