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Exploring the impact of COVID 19 on our built environment and infrastructure

The second of our series of Global Health seminars exploring the impact of COVID 19 was held on the 29th of October, with a focus on how the pandemic has uncovered unsustainable aspects of the way in which our cities, services and work practices operate.

Prof. Nabeel Affara, Hughes Hall Life-Fellow and Professor of Molecular Genetics and Genomics in the Department of Pathology, reports:

The theme running through all the presentations and subsequent discussions was that of Resilience and Decentralisation in the management of challenging crises and how reshaping our infrastructure and services to achieve these properties offers a more effective and sustainable way forward for city design and infrastructure, services and rural planning policy. 

A number of interrelated themes were explored. First, how we may need to rethink our national infrastructure with respect to modes of working, transport, the management of services and city design? In this respect, the IT infrastructure is considered to be pivotal.

Second, what are the implications of increased working from home and the impact this has on various service industries, retail and hospitality in city locations? What policies need to be developed for the use/repurposing of property in cities liberated by increased home working? Will there be a rebalancing of population between cities and the countryside as a consequence of home working? What will this mean in terms of rural infrastructure and the impact on rural communities?  What has the pandemic uncovered about the delivery of medical care in our health services, the way our hospitals are designed and the use of telemedicine to deliver remote consultation and monitoring?

There was general agreement (a) that the disruption caused by the pandemic has uncovered unsustainable practices and inequalities in the way in which our current socio/economic structures operate; (b) that we should focus on the intentions and outcomes we want to achieve, not on the engineering itself; (c) that the impact of the disruption is going to be long-term and will require fundamental change to bring about a sustainable future, where we learn how to get rid of unsustainable bad practices; (d) that we should learn from new examples of resilience and maintain and leverage them – this requires political will, interconnectedness and an international perspective, but is a major opportunity for beneficial change; (e) that this is a highly political issue about the use and control of power to bring about change; (f) that this is likely to create tensions within any highly centralised state, and that the challenges might best be addressed by moves towards greater decentralisation which, in turn, will provide greater local resilience and rapidity of response to disruption. 

The meeting was chaired by Dr Stephen Axford and themes and discussions were led by:   

Professor Michael Barrett, Judge Business School

Professor Ian Hodge, Department of Land Economy

Dr Timea Nochta, Department of Engineering

Dr Ajith Parlikad, Department of Engineering

Dr Karl Prince, Cambridge Digital Innovation, Hughes Hall

L R Profe Ian Hodge Dr Timea Nochta Dr Ajith Parlikad Dr Karl Prince and Prof Michael Barrett