5 ways planning remains relevant during COVID-19

A list of 5 ways that urban and regional planning are relevant during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Hand with pencil drawing the word

Planning Lesson 1: We know that bottom-up is stronger than top-down. 

Crowd of protesters wearing masks and holding signs and kneeling.

More than ever, the pandemic requires us to work together to stop its spread. Planners are uniquely qualified to help residents advocate for their own safety instead of relying on government measures to do so.  

Planning Lesson 2: We know that the “one-size fits all” never works. 

Group of men and women wearing yellow shirts standing shoulder to sholder in tight rows.

Public policy makers apply sweeping and wide ranging yet often crude measures to protect us from the virus. More information and analysis  are needed to help officials issue individualistic and group-based guidance on which demographics, which spaces, and which communities need which measures of protection. 

Planning Lesson 3: We know that lessons from planning in the past apply to our future.  

Aerial shot of houses in Indonesia.

The Spanish flu has taught us that a pandemic like this one lasts for several years, e.g. the Spanish flu lasted 2 years in Michigan from spring 1918 to spring 1920. Planners need to advocate for ways that make living in these times sustainable while keeping the vulnerable in our communities safe. Access to open air, for example, was a key strategy advocated across the world to keep populations safe. 

Planning Lesson 4: We know that we need more active transport and public spaces.  

People walking on bridge.

Across the country, cities have created exclusive spaces for pedestrians and bikers such as dedicated streets for active transportation, parking space closures for dining etc. Now is our chance to make the temporary permanent – advocating for dedicated active transport paths to downtown with protections to be installed now for a future that is colder  in order to  sustain active modes of commuting, such as heated and well ventilated bike paths. Roads dedicated to cars converted into protective spaces made for dining with distances, can be kept over the long term. 

Planning Lesson 5: We know that community is everything.  

Group of people outside enjoying a music concert.

Let’s foster the spirit we were forced to build in the past three months to create a more sustainable future. Our communities have found new ways of being together by being apart. The support of giving has been unprecedented, and strangers have become neighbors in a short period of time. Planning should strengthen and support these new ties within and across our communities. 

Urban & Regional Planning Program at Michigan State University  

Urban and regional planning investigates the connection between our physical spaces, communities and the individual. Through the combination of data, environmental research, creative design and community outreach, planners have the potential to positively impact the way we exist with our environment.  

As our society grapples with issues of the environment, social justice, culture, economic development and sustainability, Planners are at the forefront of developing creative and inclusive solutions to the ongoing demands of the economic, social and environmental development of our communities at varying scales (from the local to the regional/national).  

The MSU Urban & Regional Planning program was established in 1946 and offers a Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning, a Master of Urban and Regional Planning and a Ph.D. in Planning, Design and Construction with a concentration in Urban and Regional Planning.  

Contact us for more information: Zenia Kotval, URP professor and program director at kotval@msu.edu 

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