President's Message to the World Town Planning Day 2020
Let’s endure and take up the challenges and opportunities posed by the global pandemic and think afresh
Dr Jagath Munasinghe
President, Institute of Town Planners Sri Lanka
The World Town Planning Day 2020 occurs at a time when the whole world is confronted by an unexpected challenge caused by Corvid 19 pandemic. Since the times of its first celebration in 1949, pioneered by Professor Carlos Maria della Paolera in Buenos Aires, this may be the first time that it warranted a ‘closed’ celebration with no meetings and physical gatherings. The pandemic has shattered our interests to celebrate, but necessitated us to practice more important social safeguards, in an atmosphere where the numbers infected is multiplying exponentially, affecting millions, while the fatalities are recorded in hundreds on a daily basis, around the globe. It goes without saying that the novel Coronavirus pandemic is indeed a challenge to all human beings, not just for those who got infected and those who work on them.
There is no debate that urban areas are the most affected, irrespective of their sizes, be they mega-cities or small towns, and where they are located. On one hand their inhabitants are engulfed in an untold fear and uncertainty, while on the other, their otherwise vibrant spaces and festive environments have lost lives. People who enjoyed the company of the public realm, now shy away leaving them lifeless and eerily quiet.
This has had profound effects on the business environment and social norms and practices. The impact on the cities and towns inevitably affects nation states, their economies, and societies.
However, every challenge can be turned into an opportunity if we take them positively. One cannot forget the fact that the Covid-19 lockdown ushered in a new set of working conditions for many. Working from home, for business operators, their employees, and students, is already becoming the new trend. Moreover, many people may be more than happy to spend more time with their families. The versatility of information and communication technology is being realized by many those who might have been skeptical of its potentials in the recent past. The reduced need for travel has also reduced daily commuters and thus reduced traffic flows and congestions usually experienced in city streets. The shopping culture has gradually been replaced by home delivery services. Hygienic practices and healthy lifestyles are no more options but necessities. Cleanliness, minimalism, and simplicity are given priority over glamour, flamboyance, and vanity. Will these features and practices continue into the awaiting ‘new normal’? Who would say that these are not positive signs of healthy and sustainable societies and necessary requisites envisaged in the planning of cities and towns in the future?
Having said that, one must not forget that not everyone has the luxury of enjoying such a healthy and relaxed lifestyle. We need to understand that those who work from home, enjoy that luxury at the expense of those who have to stay online or at service 24 x 7, in healthcare services, essential supplies, security, police and municipal services and they are experiencing hard times. In that sense, the new questions we should be asking include, how do we create equality and a fair distribution of work, so that everyone has near-equal opportunities to ease out and work from home, or at the very least, adapt to the new normal.
Furthermore, a large majority of cities and towns in the world have communities living in crowded, disadvantaged, and substandard settlements. A great majority of them earn their living out of day works and through informal means. Such people with no doubt experience additional difficulties during hard times of this nature. They not only are more exposed to the epidemic, and the critical unsavory conditions associated with it, but also likely to miss the opportunities surging from the virtues of the new normal. They will be facing a bigger dilemma, in that, they may lose their livelihoods which are essentially associated with the aforementioned vibrance and the thriving business environments of the cities. How not to leave them in aside is also a challenge in front of the planning of cities and towns in the future.
Let’s make every challenge an opportunity and take up with these opportunities and challenges in a thoughtful and balanced manner, and built new hopes for sustainable urban futures for all, in this World Town Planning Day 2020.
08th November 2020
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The Institute of Town Planners Sri Lanka (ITPSL) was established under the provisions of Parliament Act No 23 of 1986 is the professional body responsible for enhancing the Town Planning Profession in Sri Lanka. The Institute was brought into existence to promote the profession of Town & Country Planning in Sri Lanka and to enhance the standard of the profession in the country in keeping with global trends and developments in this field. The Institute also plays a lead role in expressing its professional opinion on matters directly and indirectly concerned with urban and regional development of Sri Lanka and has offered its advice and services to the Government, Semi Government Institutions as well as Provincial and Local Authorities.