Pandemics have a history of transforming infrastructure. The 18th century yellow fever and 19th century cholera and smallpox outbreaks brought innovations like broad boulevards, citywide sewer systems, indoor plumbing, and disease mapping.
Thanks to the scale and speed of change possible in the modern world, the COVID-19 pandemic brings with it even greater opportunities for sustainable, inclusive and resilient infrastructure development.
The below are three trends in infrastructure design and use that resulted from the pandemic and are likely going to remain relevant to the infrastructure of the future:
- Vehicle restriction and new street designs in urban areas to encourage walking.
- Temporary cycle ways are made permanent and become mandatory in new road planning.
- Easing of regulations on, and increasing usage of, micromobility (e-scooters and e-bikes).
- Growth in Mobility as a Service whereby a mix of modes, including public transport, are integrated from the beginning, and offered as a total solution to users.
2. Access to fresh air
- Buildings. Delivering fresh air will be paramount, in both the development of better air filtration systems and the availability of open-able windows. Interiors will have to incorporate the ongoing need for social distancing in rooms, hallways, lifts and entrances.
- Public spaces. Social distancing will dictate the need for more public spaces designed for maximum utility within metres-per-person restrictions. This will require creative approaches to retrofitting existing public spaces and designing new ones.
- Urban/suburban/regional green areas. In the US, state parks have seen a surge in popularity post-lockdown. And research has shown that mental health is improved with better access to outdoors and green space. Designing infrastructure to shorten the distance to open spaces could be a key driver in future development.
- Telecommuting is already having a negative impact on mobility systems, office buildings and their urban surrounds. Over time some of these temporary changes will become permanent aspects of working life, necessitating structural adjustments in both urban and regional environments.
- Providing seamless communication on a continual basis across vast areas will require upgrading and improving home internet speed/reliability, electricity grids and communication tools themselves.
- Home design will need to better account for and accommodate separate office spaces and all-day use. And home-tract developers will need to add nearby outdoor amenities and offer better access to core services.
- For future infrastructure development in particular, restrictions on overseas travel will greatly reduce the availability of foreign workers, as well as hinder the ability to bring workers from your own country if you are developing major projects abroad. Adjustments will have to be made to account for the potential increase in labour costs.