Researchers from Imperial College London, Southeast University in Nanjing, China and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, have produced a cutting-edge toolkit for urban designers, decision-makers and practitioners to help evaluate the impacts of different urban-design interventions on the transmission of infectious diseases.
Urban design, which considers spatial scales ranging from buildings, streets, public spaces, neighbourhoods and districts to entire cities, can offers solutions to public health problems through short-term interventions such as the creation of environmental and pandemic infrastructure, and the treatment of medical waste, and longer-term responses such as decreased population density and enhanced public services for improved access to amenities.Computer models can support urban designers in responding to infectious diseases by helping designers and decision makers evaluate possible interventions against other public health resilience or sustainability metrics.
To develop the toolkit, scientists from Imperial College’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Faculty of Medicine worked with overseas colleagues from the fields of urban design, architecture, geography, infectious disease and computer science to conduct a systematic multidisciplinary literature review that explored research at the interface of infectious diseases, urban design and computational modelling. The researchers were specifically interested in the extent to which urban designers can consider and support the fight against infectious diseases while designing a healthy and resilient built environment.
From this, the researchers were able to compile a toolkit that mapped out possible design interventions, the relevant infectious diseases and computer modelling tools for the whole urban design process. The toolkit could potentially provide information about simulation models that could be used to understand how design changes can influence infection rates in cities – evaluating, for example, the impact that different designs of public buildings or urban-transport systems would have on social distancing or the role of ventilation and air filtration.
‘We intend that this toolkit will benefit urban designers, planners, decision-makers and computer modellers to help empower cities to develop strategies in response to COVID-19 and prepare for future uncertain disasters in pursuing and creating healthy and resilient cities,’ said Koen van Dam, a research fellow in Imperial College London’s Urban Energy Systems group.
According to van Dam, the field is moving quickly, with new developments in research relating to Covid-specific modifications beginning to be published. ‘It would be interesting to see how the field is changing as a result of the global pandemic and more awareness of the impacts of the built environment on diseases, as well as any long-term behavioural change we might see as a result,’ he said.
The research has been published in Progress in Planning.