Nairobi, 27 May 2020  - The 8th COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campus online session discussed  planning and design for pandemic urban resilience. The webinar, which attracted over 380 participants, was organized by the World Urban Campaign with the participation of  urban planners from ISOCARP and its Institute, Arcadis NV, the Commonwealth Association of Planners, the Paris Region Institute and the Urban Lab of UN-Habitat.

Experts started by highlighting the central role of urban planning in the post COVID-19 recovery and the unique opportunity to start rethinking the way we plan cities.

Eric Huybrechts, regional planner at the Paris Region Institute said that large cities have been at the epicentre of the crisis, starting with Wuhan. He said as cities continue to grow such pandemics are increasingly inevitable and new planning and design approaches are essential to prevent and adapt to future crises, protect citizens and prepare for upcoming pandemics.

One of the critical aspects of future planning will be to incorporate informal settlements, said Mr Huybrechts, and planning for the increasing majority of urban poor that have been impacted by the pandemic. While this will one of the biggest challenges that urban planners will face, the pandemic can also be an opportunity to accelerate the shift towards the ‘green new deal’, he said.

‘Planning for flattening the curve should be at the heart of urban planning’ said Bert Smolders from Arcadis NV, a firm engaged in urban infrastructures around the world which is  working with UN-Habitat to assist cities to respond to the pandemic through a Rapid Response Help Desk. Mr Smolders said Arcadis is thinking strategically about resilient planning approaches for the long term to ‘build back better’ after the crisis towards a ‘safe and attractive new normal’. However, he added that the task is complex because we have to make secure health-proof cities while preserving the livability and freedom citizens have enjoyed so far. 

Ian Tant, the UK Vice President of the Commonwealth Association of Planners emphasized that the crisis represents an opportunity for planners to fully incorporate climate action, redefining green space in cities and revisiting the way city centres are designed for business. Cities should adapt to changing ways people work, travel and shop. Four essential avenues to rethink cities, Mr Tant said, are through new housing standards to make people safer and healthier, promoting active travel through non-motorized transport, improving green spaces and reshaping city centres.

Isocarp, a global network of urban planners is actively engaging planning professionals in learning from the pandemic and looking at ways to increase urban resilience, rethinking pubic space and introducing a new health consciousness in future planning.

‘Public space has been ‘traumatized’ in this pandemic, suffering from new social distancing protocols. This requires a major shift’, said Milena Ivkovics, Coordinator of Urban Planning Advisory Teams at Isocarp. The Isocarp Institute, led by Didier Vancutsem, is looking at ways to build the future capacities of planners through adaptative, flexible and integrated approaches to designing and planning cities.  A new dialogue will be essential in the coming years by engaging citizens and training young planners to address the challenges.

Javier Toner, Urban Development Specialist at UN-Habitat said planning should be revisisted through regional, city, neighbourhood and building scales which all require new thinking. He said cities need the right densities and public spaces, mixed-use compact neighbourhoods integrating urban agriculture, as well as buildings with adequate space and standards.

At the end of the session, planners said it was important reflect on the thinking of the different planning associations and practices, as well as focus on key areas such as urban mobilities and public space.

Eight Urban Thinkers Campus sessions have been held this month with the last in this series  on ‘Reporting during pandemics’ being held on 29 May. For more information and to register go to