Coronavirus: Will our day-to-day ever be the same?

Tony Wheeler: Co-Founder, Lonely Planet
Will only the wealthy be able to travel?

When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, I keep repeating baseball player and philosopher Yogi Berra’s wise advice that “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

In the travel game, it’s tough even to understand what’s going on in the present. Some countries (Australia) won’t let people out, other countries (America) won’t let people in, even when they’re coming from a place with a better virus story. Or you can leave (the UK) and go somewhere else (the list changes daily) only to find (typically at 4 a.m.) all sorts of restrictions on your return.

None of this encourages travel, and it’s probably a safe bet that merely making the decision to head for the departure gate is going to be a fraught choice for some time to come. Quite apart from dealing with the bureaucracy and rules, I’m afraid that post-pandemic travel will be to a very different new world. Will we be welcomed? Will we be safe? And can we afford it? It will be a sad new world if travel becomes something only for the rich and gap-year travel becomes a rite of passage that ceases to exist.

Of course, a travel reassessment will give us the opportunity to tackle some of the industry’s inevitable drawbacks from a fresh perspective, but will we tackle overtourism and climate change, or just turn the power back on and hit restart?

Audrey Azoulay: Director-General, Unesco
How will AI shape our lives post-Covid?

Covid-19 is a test like no other. Never before have the lives of so many people around the world been affected at this scale or speed.

Over the past six months, thousands of AI innovations have sprung up in response to the challenges of life under lockdown. Governments are mobilising machine-learning in many ways, from contact-tracing apps to telemedicine and remote learning.

However, as the digital transformation accelerates exponentially, it is highlighting the challenges of AI. Ethical dilemmas are already a reality – including privacy risks and discriminatory bias.

It is up to us to decide what we want AI to look like: there is a legislative vacuum that needs to be filled now. Principles such as proportionality, inclusivity, human oversight and transparency can create a framework allowing us to anticipate these issues.

This is why Unesco is working to build consensus among 193 countries to lay the ethical foundations of AI. Building on these principles, countries will be able to develop national policies that ensure AI is designed, developed and deployed in compliance with fundamental human values.

As we face new, previously unimaginable challenges – like the pandemic – we must ensure that the tools we are developing work for us, and not against us.

Ezekiel Emanuel: Member, Biden-Harris Covid-19 Advisory Board and Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania
What will we be craving in a post-pandemic world?

There are three clear legacies from the Covid-19 pandemic. They all derive from the unnatural and unpleasant circumstances imposed by the pandemic and the necessary public health responses.

First, we all want security. The pandemic has filled us with uncertainty and insecurity. The natural response is to want security. This means security in having an income, child care, family leave and other things necessary to care for your family during a pandemic. Every country will have to critically evaluate its social safety net and shore it up.

Second, we all want sociabilities. Human are social animals. The isolation imposed by Covid-19 is debilitating. We want to have opportunities to be with other people, share meals, share a drink in the pub, and share activities. We see this when restrictions are eased how people run for parties and group settings. Opportunities and venues for sociabilities will become huge post-Covid.

Third, travel will explode after the pandemic. People like (safe) novelty and changes of scenery. We have all been locked down with the monotony of the same rooms, same walking routine, inability to see new things. When it is safe to travel, people will go, go, go.


Giuseppe Sala: Mayor of Milan and Chair of the C40 Mayors Covid-19 Recovery Task Force
How can we protect city dwellers?

Cities have already fundamentally changed as a result of the Covid crisis. By delivering a green and just recovery from the pandemic, we can create the cities and the future we want. Working closely with local communities and businesses, mayors around the world have taken urgent action to protect the health and wellbeing of our citizens.

We’re helping create good green jobs, supporting key workers, investing in safe, resilient mass transit, rapidly expanding bike lanes and increasing the amount of green space in our cities. The experience of lockdown has made clear the need for well resourced, local amenities, which is why many people are looking at 15-minute cities, where all city residents are able to meet most of their needs within a short walk or bicycle ride from their homes.

Many of these innovations have been introduced incredibly quickly, demonstrating just how fast things can change. And they are here to stay. A return to ‘business as usual’ would not just be a monumental failure of imagination, but lock in the inequities laid bare by the pandemic and the inevitability of more devastating crises due to climate breakdown. That could be the most hopeful legacy of this most challenging year.

Ma Yansong: Architect and Founder of MAD Architects, Beijing
What’s the role of public spaces in cities?

Covid-19 at the very beginning is a public health issue, and then was further developed as a political concern. It challenged the nature of urban design, and pushed us to reconsider the use architecture and city space.

“Sharing” used to be one of the most important agenda in urban design and planning. In our past architectural practices, we used to make a lot of efforts on providing more open space to stimulate social interactions, which was considered as a positive and revolutionary action. However, the pandemic led to more discussions on isolation and social distancing, rather than sharing and co-living. Our efforts on providing better public space is questioned, and they might be considered not that important anymore.

However, in the long run, public space will still be the foundation for sharing our cities. We can’t imagine the city as a perfectly functioning hospital, because the city should surpass functionality and reflect our ideal for living. Interpersonal communication is still essential, but in the post-pandemic era might be greatly challenged.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif: Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlements Programme
How could cities help solve pandemic inequalities?

With an estimated 90% of all reported Covid-19 cases recorded in urban areas, cities have become the epicentre of the pandemic. At the same time, I believe that the solutions to the socio-economic and health challenges will be found in cities.

Cities are already changing because residents have transformed the way they live and work. Governments have woken up to the urgent need to address issues around inequalities.

It is not the density of cities that leads to people being infected, it is unequal access to adequate housing, energy, water, sanitation, transport, green public spaces, healthcare and education. Cities will see dramatic changes because citizens will not put up with these inequalities. What we will look for in a home and in our living environment will be determined by where we find ourselves. My hope is that people will use their new-found political muscle to ensure that there is an equitable spread of resources in cities. As we build back better, we will need an empathy revolution to ensure we do not leave behind the most vulnerable groups.

Another major change for many is the discovery that we can work from home. We will seek to retrofit our homes to be able to maximise the opportunities and tackle the challenges this transformation presents to us all.

Ultimately, cities are made up of people and the pandemic has shown that infinite growth has its limits. We either need to adapt, or go the way of the dinosaurs. I believe we can and will change. This is our opportunity to plan and regenerate environmentally sustainable cities which power the Secretary-General’s vision of building back better and greener.

Janette Sadik-Khan: Former Commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation
What will transport look like?

Just a few months ago, the future of transportation was app-enabled mobility and visions of driverless cars. That version of the future crashed as the coronavirus advanced, and as car traffic vanished from city streets.

The transportation rescue hasn’t come in Ubers or robot cars. Cities on every continent responded by returning to old mobility and reclaiming roads for new uses. Milan, Paris and London are just some of the cities that have converted hundreds of miles of former driving and parking lanes into bus and bike lanes, and outdoor restaurant and café seating, allowing millions of residents to come outside safely simply by providing six feet of safe distance.

These steps, which would have been controversial before the pandemic, are today a first draft of what a new future of transportation could look like in post-Covid cities. Six feet of safe space on roads and sidewalks is all that cities need to transition from life shut indoors to a reopened, outside economy. There is six feet of space concealed within individual lanes on almost every street that can be readapted for safe, socially distant mobility, to create open-air commercial districts, and to make space for outdoor classrooms and civic activities like voting. The six-foot streets that the global economic recovery will be built upon are already within reach, and the outdoor, place-making activities that they make possible can make cities, safer, more resilient and more sustainable long after the pandemic. The six-foot city is already within reach on thousands of roads around the world, and wherever there are six feet, there is just enough space to hold us all together.


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