• February 27th, 2020

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Densely packed cities are more vulnerable to disease outbreaks, such as the COVID-2019 and the SARS ones. The solution, as reported by The World Health Organization, could be the so called "20-minutes city". The city of Melbourne is already testing its pilot program to "live locally".

Are cities vulnerable to disease outbreaks?

As city planners and physicians are explaining to us, densely packed urban areas are vulnerable to deadly disease outbreaks. In 2050 more than two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in urban areas, that's why the need for cities redesign is vital. The Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the new coronavirus (COVID-2019), is just another example of such a need. Counting about 11 million inhabitants, the city has been under virtual lockdown for weeks now with several citizens dead due to the epidemic outbreak. The COVID-2019 is just the last deadly epidemic of a longer list: we can recall, for example, the 2002 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which had its epicentre in Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Urban centres attract people through their work opportunities and life quality, but such a close proximity of people also results in the risk of disease spread.

Why are risks higher in cities?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified urbanization as one of the major challenges for public health nowadays. The urban environment is related to a set of diseases such as obesity, heart and pulmonary disease, tuberculosis, dengue and much more. Risks increase in cities for several reasons, from crowding to higher contacts between humans and animals (ex. areas with rodents, animal markets or industrial agricultural facilities).

How to tackle the problem?

Urban areas should not only develop solutions for disease detection, but also for rapid control of emerging infections. Infrastructure design and development will be crucial for that: in fact, more than density, is the human behaviour that facilitates the spread. Planners should therefore build the so called "20-minute cities", according to David Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Those kinds of neighbourhoods imply that one person can get to his/ her job, beloved ones, doctor and more within 20 minutes. Melbourne is already testing it, providing to its citizens the satisfaction of most of their needs within a 20-minutes walk, bike ride or public transport commute.

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