If you don’t live in one of the gigantic megacities dotted around our globe you might imagine them to resemble a zombie film right now, where all the citizens have fled to the safer rural areas, and their many corridors of streets lie devoid of any signs of life.
However, you would be slightly mistaken.
Tokyo’s metropolitan area is the most densely populated in the world, with over 38 million people living in 13,500 square km (5,212 square miles) of space. Yet the Japanese government has only “encouraged,” not ordered, its citizens to stay at home and requested that businesses limit their opening hours or temporarily cease operations as a response to the coronavirus.
A completely different approach has been taken by India, home to three megacities, which is trying to make a success of the most draconian lock-down attempt anywhere on the globe. A total of 1.3 billion people (almost one-fifth of the world’s population) have been ordered to stay at home, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi advising citizens that “they should forget what going out is like.”
These differing approaches are replicated across the world, making the question posed in the title of this article a difficult one to conclude. Culture, economic situations, and even personalities play a huge part in how countries, and thus their cities, have chosen to tackle this pandemic.
But as the number of cases of COVID-19 continue to climb across the world, we must ponder if there will be everlasting changes to our megacities? Will temperature scans become commonplace in popular areas? Robots patrolling the streets with the ability to monitor your health? Skies full of drones, fulfilling millions of deliveries regularly? Skyscrapers with their offices half-empty as remote working becomes the norm?
You get the point.
Some of the situations brought up above have already become commonplace as cities rush to contain the easily-transmitted virus.
Tunisia’s “Robocop” system has been widely reported in the global press as a novel, but effective way of ensuring citizens are abiding by the strict quarantine rules currently in place there. Developed by Anis Sahbani, it uses thermal imaging to identify people, and judging by social media videos, it also employs a loudspeaker to demand that people produce identification.
A strange, and perhaps even humorous, sight at the moment, but an effective way of enforcing law and order on the streets while reducing human contact.
China has also been investing in technology, utilizing their vast technology sector to repurpose robots to deliver medicine to hospitals, again reducing human contact and thus the risk of transmission. Drones have been extensively used to identify people not wearing masks, disinfect popular public areas, transport medical samples and deliver consumer items.
Even before the viral outbreak there, China was already well into their “social credit campaign” described by Chinabriefing.com as a surveillance system in which the government “builds a database which monitors individual, corporate and government behavior in real time.” Surely this information could be used in tracking the future spreading of this virus and any others which develop in the future.
Amazon’s drone initiative was first announced in mid-June 2019 and had us all imagining a future of low-level buzzing and parcel drops in our backyards — but has the coronavirus brought this concept closer to reality?
South Korea has also put their faith in technology with a high degree of success. The world media have for some time been praising the speed at which South Korea reacted to the coronavirus, and privacy fears aside, it is easy to see why. It has consistently reported a low number of new cases since mid-March due to its swift action and enormous national testing initiative.
That nation has also utilized drone technology to disinfect popular public areas, but has gone even further, by installing sterilizers to disinfect people at major exhibition halls and thermal imaging at shopping malls. Both measures would not seem out of place in any large city post-Coronavirus.
The United States of America, the country which currently has the highest reported number of coronavirus COVID-19 cases (although not per capita) is home to four of the world’s megacities. One of them being New York, the epicenter of the USA’s COVID-19 outbreak.
It also hosts some of the most famous landmarks in the world, the two largest stock exchanges, and a large number of FTSE 500 companies. If lasting changes are going to be evident anywhere in the great cities of the world, they are likely to be instituted in the Big Apple.
One of the most wide-ranging of these changes will likely be felt in the workplace. While the US already had a burgeoning remote telecommuting workforce, the sudden impact of the coronavirus has forced this experiment on many organizations, and depending on the success of this new reality, it could have long-lasting impacts on where Americans work in the future.
This could perhaps result in less commuting — which could potentially lead to higher productivity. More time spent at home with the family might lead to healthier relationships, and possibly larger families. Or, conversely, a reduced number of human interactions could lead to further division in our society and increased psychological challenges.
There are so many strands to be pulled together when considering the impact this current pandemic will have on our megacities that it is challenging to discuss all of them in a single article. Increased awareness about the importance of hygiene, both in public places and our own homes, is likely to become a permanent part of our lives — and our uses of technology are without a doubt changed forever.
What is also clear is that the current quarantine measures in place are vital to ensuring that our great megacities can return to prominence quickly, revitalizing our economy and allowing all of us around the globe to return to some sort of normality.