Before the pandemic, U.S. cities weren’t faring too well judging by several indicators. New Yorkers had been complaining for years about the MTA and the usual occurrence of service delays and subpar commutes. Cities out West like Denver were experiencing rapid growth and with it the kind of smog and rush hour pollution comparable to the haze seen over Los Angeles in the evenings. And cities everywhere were trying to figure out a way to transform their concrete landscapes into urban centers of greenery to capture carbon while new commercial real estates and buildings transformed into WeWork’s only added to the concrete skyline.
Covid-19 has provided somewhat of a window to change all of this if executed properly. If there was ever a time for scientists to put aside their agendas of only wanting to publish an article on the Elsevier platform, and start advocating for smarter cities, now is it. Academics need to lend a hand to the “smart city” approach, but they also need to adapt and help out where it's needed most. Here are some methods to do so:
1. Informal approaches need to become part of the mainstream
The status quo for academics has been for decades to be accredited through publications. While this approach works in terms of recognition, climbing the academic ladder, being able to apply for more grants, and being awarded for something, there should be a broader approach now for scientific research to be disseminated on the basis of informal idea-sharing.
For example, because cities need vastly new approaches to the way they function, especially in terms of transportation and efficiency in the American example, academics and social science researchers should be apt to share their knowledge of systems thinking on social media, on their LinkedIn platforms and in other informal spaces to get the word out on thought processes versus simply the results section of a new paper.
A recent commentary by the Anneburg Public Policy Center stated that the current system [in academia] has done too much to reward results. This causes a conflict of interest for scientists who desperately want their research hypothesis to be true instead of focusing on the value their research has for other institutions, places, and people in their immediate surroundings.
2. Focusing on intervention strategies rather than just forecasting
Many researchers have been predicting how the overall drop in CO2 emissions will affect our cities and the air we breathe. While there has been an overall drop of about 5 percent in global CO2 emissions from the start of the pandemic until about mid-June, scientists are predicting this number to creep back to a normal emissions scenario in the coming years.
While there has been optimism expressed by the environmental community that keeping car-free streets and reducing the number of parking spots in cities can safeguard our cities against pollution for years to come, actionable agendas need to be formed to make sure this happens. Forecasting is important but taking action to promote favorable forecasts is what’s needed.
This means starting rooftop gardens and farms to capture carbon, planting more trees in parks, and making sure that pedestrian zoning and bike lanes are increased.
3. New teaching methods and applications for a post-Covid society
University professors have a tremendous new responsibility to alter their syllabi and incorporate new lessons and ideas for how to navigate anything amid the current pandemic. If schools and universities do get funding and are able to use resources to make schools safe for re-opening, professors will need to shed light on new realities and the concept of the “new normal”.
At the university level, communications classes should be geared toward understanding how to live and function in the new remote working world, and in the business world, new material will need to be taught regarding how to comply with new regulations brought forth by Covid-19 for different industries.
Further, teachers everywhere should want to adopt some type of lecture as to how to get ahead in this economy, steps to take for starting a new career, and such. These types of lessons should be central to educating a new workforce that is faced with many unpredictabilities moving forward.