Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Coronavirus Time to Replan and Redesign Our Cities

Everyone is talking about when we  get back to normal. The answer is never. We should not be considering getting back to normal. Normal is what caused the spread of the coronavirus in the first place, we need to change our behaviour and part of that also requires changing the planning and design of our cities.

As I mentioned in the previous post, ancient cities were fortress and walled cities. One thing about a walled city is that it is easier to keep people prisoner in the city than keep the enemy out. From which can surmise, and expand to the concept that it is easier to lock a population in than to lock them out, and thus for border control will always have problem of infiltration. Still in tackling the spread of a contagion like coronavirus, locking a population in, would be beneficial on condition that the population has access to appropriate goods and services with in its own walls. Our towns and cities don't. I've written previously about how bridges wreck the economies of cities, how an optional need for a bridge is transformed into a dependency on the bridge, as business redistributes either side of the bridge. I've argued how we need to directly protect diversity, not protect competition. That economy of scale has benefits, but we also need to avoid concentration of pollutants and dependency on single supplier. We need to known when to boost production to saturate basic need then to scale back and provide more diversity. Henry Ford was right that customer can have any colour they want as long as its black: that is the requirement to supply the basic need in the first instance. Once the basic need satisfied, then can start to get particular.

Any case as mentioned the governments want to increase population density as a consequence of their perspective on urban sprawl. Part of their perspective is that urban sprawl is a consequence of the car, I believe that whilst this is partially so, it is mostly nonsense. Business and architects have been building massive facilities, with reach stretching for kilometres. An office building in the city has people travelling 25 km daily, some even 100 km daily. I read one National Geographic article where a person was spending 4 hours or more each day travelling to some distant location to work. Basically houses affordable one end of country and work available at the other. It equates to poor city and national planning.

Sure part of the problem is workers themselves wanting dormitory suburbs devoid of industry, or at least devoid of the noise and pollution created by industry. But if there is no business of any kind in the suburbs, then the next generation has to travel a significant distance to search for employment: and that generally requires they have a car. How are school leavers going to afford a car? The people of the world aren't the kids in American high school movies, owning cars. Typical families cannot afford to buy cars for their kids, and jobs for kids to work after school hours or on weekends are very few. It is part of the pressure that have to do well in school and get a degree to get a good job.

It would be preferable if we restricted the geographical reach of business facilities, and also the market share of business. As I mentioned in an earlier post, political parties should be restricted to no more than 20% of the seats, so that we can get back to due and proper representation of the people , instead of political parties hijacking our government and contending they have mandates. Afterwards I then extended this to business, restricting them to no more than 20% of the market, where market is defined on multiple levels. So whilst a supermarket may have less than 20% of the national market, when looked at locally it may hold 80% of the market, and so in a local market it may have to adjust.

In the metro areas supermarkets and/or small shopping centres tend to be at 1 km to 2 km centres, and so are in easy walking distance. Though few people walk to them, and that is largely because here in South Australia footpaths are rare. Where there are footpaths there is a chance that the footpath suddenly comes to an end. People thus tend to spend a lot of their time in their cars, wasting fuel and time driving in circles until they can get a carpark as close as possible to a building. To make our cities walkable we first have to make our suburbs walkable. Things are already potentially in walking distance: it's just not convenient to do so.

After my heart attack, I looked on google earth at places I lived when I was a kid, and the places I walked to, to get an idea of how far I could walk, and thus how far I still expect to be able to walk. When looking at places in England, it was apparent, that the construction of motorways, now made it next to impossible to walk the paths I once did. Civil engineers seem more interested in constructing mega-structures, bridges over bridges, than coming up with livable spaces. Here in South Australia, they seem bent on creating the same kind of mess. We may be able to halt that.

The towns and suburbs should be capable of being isolated. No point in referring to the city of Elizabeth or city of Tea Tree Gully (TTG), if all the suburbs making up these cities are otherwise identified as suburbs of Adelaide. Not the least of which is Elizabeth was supposed to be a satellite city: so by definition it should have remained isolated from Adelaide. Gawler is a rural town and it should also remain isolated from Adelaide. That is the grid of urban sprawl, of dormitory suburbs should not spread across the lad between the city centres. There should be clear boundaries between one local government (LG) area and the next.

The network of roads for cars should be more like the network of rails for trains, we should have more intermodal systems, with the ultimate part of the system being on foot and walking. I'm not suggesting get rid of vehicles being able to reach buildings for delivery. However not all buildings need access to large mechanised vehicles. Secondly the majority of items in a building have to be able to pass through a 900 mm wide door way or smaller. So tricycles and smaller mechanised vehicles can be used for transporting most things.

So we can gate of roads for large vehicles, and only allowing access to small personal transporters. The large vehicles have to stop at the gates and be granted access. So for example in Adelaide, we could place carparks around the periphery of the parklands, and only allow human powered vehicles and small electric vehicles into the city. These carparks will also be where the buses also stop unless the buses are electric vehicles. The buses can have electronic passes so they can automatically open access gates.

So in developing the means of limiting vehicle access we are also providing the means of locking the city or suburb up. The road network should provide clearly identifiable corridors between clearly identifiable towns: there should be no grid of roads spread out between the towns.

Increasing the population density of the capital cities is not the requirement. Clearly high population density increases the potential for the spread of a contagion like coronavirus, and it also increases the potential problems when confronted by other attacks by nature: bushfires, earthquakes, hurricanes (tropical cyclones {don't drop the word tropical the entire weather system is dependent on cyclones and anticyclones}).

A capital city is primarily expected to be a cultural, and administrative centre, not a place with a high resident population: but a place which is visited and likely infrequently. Population is preferably concentrated around those hubs which provide needed goods and services with in walking distance of homes.

Schools should be such that all housing within 1 km radius is restricted access and rent only, likewise housing around hospitals. The housing around large industrial facilities or commercial centres should also be rent only and access restricted to those working in the facilities. People are buying housing further and further a drift from their workplaces because they wish to, they are mostly doing so because they have no choice.

Rent only restrictions, moves people in and out of the areas. For example by restricting access to housing in the vicinity of schools, the entire street network around the schools can be made walkable and cars have limited to no access to the area. Children can then walk to school, and otherwise have an environment which includes the school grounds for play outside school hours. The youngest children are placed closest to the school, and the oldest furthest from the school. In this way we don't have to keep building new schools. We only build new schools if we build a new village, town or city. A suburban block, should be built around a hub, either industrial, commercial, cultural, educational, or health focused. These suburban blocks should then be built around an administrative and retail hub.

For example we can define a village as 1 km in diameter, a town as 5 km to 10 km in diameter, and a city as 100 km in diameter. A suburban block likely to be the size of a village (say 1 km x l km square), the central hub can be around 500 m square. In thus block can place around 5000 single storey dwellings.  Each dwelling suitable for one person is suitable for two people and a small child. Thus the population can be extended to 15,000. If add second storey to the houses, then houses suitable for 2 adults and 2 children, so population can expand to 20,000. The highest population densities around the world are around 100, 000 person/sq.km. So with multi-storey buildings the population of the areas can be increased still further. Though I suggest we should put more effort into controlling population growth, not pushing the ideas of economic growth requiring larger populations.

Cities are machines. To function and provide certain goods and services a certain population is needed (the cogs which make the machine function). This does not mean that world population needs to grow, rather it requires the current world population to be in the right place. I've previously mentioned that if the land mass was to be divided into cells 5 km in diameter, then the world population could distribute 1000 people per cell. Those 1000 people need less than a 1 km square for housing. For simplicity assuming a 5 km square grid, it would put a 4 km ring between each village. That ring could be a nature reserve or agricultural land. Now I'm not suggesting we distribute the world population in such manner. Not the least of which is we can house a lot more people in each 5 km cell than 1000 people.

What I am suggesting though is that a lot of facilities can be placed in a 500 m x 500 m hub, that activity can be made more local, and that localities can be isolated, yet connected. That the connections can be blocked, can be severed.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the corinavirus should not have spread further than 1 km radius of the discrete entry points to each nation. When the epidemic was reported in China, then each nation should have responded to prevent a pandemic. When pandemic was declared then each nation needs respond to prevent a epidemic in their nation. Just because their is a pandemic does not mean there is a epidemic in your nation. For certain the horse had already bolted when the gate was closed. However as I said, we still have passenger lists to track returned locals, and the suburbs they returned to. Plus we have rough idea of tourist destinations. So using a geographical information system (GIS) we could track the local government (LG) areas which these returning individuals likely visited. We can lock down these LG areas.

But assuming its got out off hand and its spread into the cities. We know its spread into the cities because the hospitals are dealing with cases. The hospitals have a radial reach. Their patients are arriving from known suburbs. Those suburbs have shopping centres and other public places. Each of these public places has a roughly known radial reach. So once again using a GIS we can map out the region most likely affected. Without any other information, we can assume various radial reaches for each facility. So we can mark a 1 km zone, a 5 km zone, and a 25 km zone. Each zone we give a hazard level, the closest to the point of origin has the highest hazard level, the most distant the lowest hazard level. As we identify people in the 1 km zone, we change from a point of origin to a path, and define the radial zones about this path. The path notionally defines a direction of travel, and the localities where resources need to be committed.

At the moment we have a response which says its an epidemic: but its not all over the country, there is a good chance it will be if we handle it as if it already is spread far and wide. We did not need to shut down the national economy, to shutdown all public gatherings and all public businesses. They needed shutting down where the contagion was and is. We don't know where that is! Really! For certain there are people out there who maybe spreading the contagion without knowing it, but there also millions of people out there not spreading anything. But clearly its being spread where people are known to be infected. Is that your neighbourhood, chances are the answer is no. Does this mean you can ignore safeguards? No it doesn't! When restrictions are lifted does this mean you can go back to normal? No it doesn't! Normal got you into this situation in the first place, normal needs to change.

Places are too crowded, and they are crowded because business is permitted to construct facilities to cater for large uncontrolled crowds of people from distant locations. For example there is no real need for people to shop in Adelaide, and there shouldn't be permitted to encourage people to chop in Adelaide. Forget about the never ending arguing about shopping hours every year, the reach of Rundle mall business should be restrained. People don't need to travel into the city, they should shop locally. If they shop locally it will reduce traffic congestion into the city, it will strengthen local community, and also reduce the potential spread of any future contagion beyond the city hub. Local shopping precincts need to be restored and enhanced, and should be within walking distance. Planning regulations should permit doing so.

Planning regulations also need to be modified to better encourage home business. Currently most of South Australia's development plans restrict home business to an area of 30 sq.m. Which is an area of 5 m x 6m, which is approximately 2 x 6m shipping containers side by side. Which seems like plenty of space, but I suggest it may be preferable to define limitations based on area of land: which takes into consideration required parking areas for residents, employees and customers. Whilst parking areas shouldn't be based on area used by business but on predicted traffic levels. For most home business probably looking at no more than 1 customer vehicle per hour: maximum. For many probably in the range of 1 vehicle per month: with most activity occurring by post, fax, phone, email, or web site.

There have already been complaints that local bricks and mortar business are loosing business to online business. The lock down for the cornavirus will result in increased use of online sales, which will likely increase demand for couriers. Noting that local business can use couriers to supply faster than Australia post. When the lock down is over, will there really be need to fill the offices and retail stores? If people can work from home, why not have them work from home all the time, and only meet up in person occasionally? That way only need to rent large office space for a meeting possibly once a month.

Taking note that don't have to pay people by the hour, because really business is not buying time. Traditionally people got paid wages, if work was intermittent such as daily or weekly. People got paid salaries because, what they needed to do, and when it needed to be done was uncertain, so they got paid by the year. How many hours the workers work is largely irrelevant, what the workers accomplish is more relevant. If a worker completes their workload in half the time working from home, you don't pay them half the pay. Completing the work faster should be worth more, so the workers should get paid more for the work completed. Or otherwise spend less time working and get the same pay. Also if people working from home are more productive, then they can be fed more work. Though they are unlikely to want to maintain the same pace and effort throughout the year: so may experience a short term spike in productivity followed by a return to more sustainable production levels.

Any case an increased use of the internet and online sales and online business, will see a reduced need for commercial/industrial building space, and an increase in residential renovations to create home business and work space. This will reduce traffic congestion, at the traditional peak times of the day. However there should be an upsurge in the need for couriers and small delivery vans taking goods to houses, and between houses. This should use far less fuel than all the commuters travelling back and forth to distant work places. Even though people may place orders at different times and different days, the suppliers can still optimise their delivery times and days and travel routes, so that delivering to the same street as few times ass possible. (We used to have bread and milk delivered to the door stop. so its not that difficult).

Most of our modern world is highly wasteful and inefficient. Cars and mobile phones mostly promote poor planning, incompetence and inefficiency. The supply of simple goods and services does not require human interaction, if you have to use a telephone to get information and complete a transaction then the suppliers supply systems are inefficient. If have to meet face to face, or in person, then highly inefficient. Human interaction maybe sociable, but its not efficient. How important is sociable to the supply, versus efficiency of supply? If efficiency of supplier is more important and should have higher priority, then should aim to eliminate people from the transaction process.

... to be continued ...

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[31/03/2020] : Original