A decentralised cluster planning approach holds the key to social distancing in urban public spaces.
1. Local civic representatives along with citizen volunteers should study the area and draw up the public spaces, including approach roads and footpaths used around the cluster. Markets, open spaces, playgrounds, shopping areas, hospitals will be marked and allocated to every cluster, for the use of that particular population. This could be a passive version of the perimeter controlling approach that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had put in place when the nation-wide lockdown had begun.
2. Localised placemaking approaches could be adopted on important roads, and in parks and markets where social distancing norms are implemented through road markings and signages. Simple measures like footpath widening, better pedestrianisation and using barricades and cones for social distancing should be implemented. This could be monitored and followed with the help of volunteers guided by a civic representative from the local ward. Some areas could be declared no-vehicle zones and opened up for pedestrians with adequate diversions. This could mean a spread of population in a wider area.
3. While shops and malls are now open, there could be local norms fixed for clusters on how queues should be formed and markings done to ensure they are followed. Information and signages could be incorporated through the cluster to indicate the norms to be followed on both a personal and collective level. Volunteers could be placed outside shops to support businesses to ensure rules are followed.
4. A digital app could be created for every cluster that will inform citizens of the local area social distancing plan, the available shops, markets and green areas to be accessed. There could be a digital campaign which not only informs people about their local areas, but also ties it up to COVID-19 free living, which could incentivise their participation in the effort. Real time data could indicate areas that are crowded and streets that are already occupied to help people re-route their walks and local travel. This could be further extended to creating localised apps like Singapore’s Trace Together where they have enabled community-driven contact tracing.
5. It will need to be considered that a majority of the population will travel to and from the cluster for work, education or even access other common public spaces — malls, hospitals, etc. These measures will bring in restraint in their behaviour as they will equate local public areas to healthy and safe spaces.While the cluster approach will look at smaller neighbourhoods with a small population, this method will aim at supplementing the effort being put in by the municipal, state and central governments. It is an integrated response that will be needed if we want to get out of the COVID-19 grid and reimagine spaces that can speed up our recovery.
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Sayli UdasMankikar was a Senior Fellow with the ORF's political economy programme. She works on issues related to sustainable urbanisation with special focus on urban ...Read More +