NAVIGATING THE NEW NORMAL: KANO CITY SPACE IN THE FACE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
KEMI HAMDAT OLUGBODI IS A DOCTORAL CANDIDATE AND LECTURER IN THE DEPARTMENT OF URBAN AND REGIONAL PLANNING, BAYERO UNIVERSITY, KANO
Cities are large agglomerations of human networks and social interactions that evolve as result of urbanization. Today, cities as indicators of development have moved many notches up from concentrations of population to economic centers, centers of competitiveness, wealth generation and engines of development. Nearly 50 % of the world’s population is urban. The very fabric of the urbanization process is comprised of multiple sequences of human network and social interaction connected by simple to complex communication systems such as transportation systems, physical public spaces - markets, open spaces, places of worship schools and technology.
Declared a global pandemic, the corona virus outbreak is largely concentrated in cities. Originating from Wuhan, a city in China with a population of about 11 million residents. The virus quickly spread to other cities of the world through human transmission via everyday activities which necessitate contact with other persons e.g sharing of cabin spaces while using public transportation modes, as well as congregating in markets, places of worship, open spaces, gymnasiums, restaurants and other shared facilities.
Major cities have been forced to partially or completely lock down to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. In effect, the flow of human networks and social interactions between and within cities has been interrupted. As such economic and social activities have been significantly reduced, the public transportation system – both local and international – seriously constrained while public gatherings have been prohibited (or at least limited to a maximum of ten to twenty persons). To further flatten the curve, physical distancing and isolation amongst other precautionary measures are being adhered to. By implication this means a stop in every physical interaction whether for social, economic purposes, coincidentally these interaction are what the urban fabric is comprised of. A cursory look at large urban settlements such as New York, Wuhan, Lagos, Kano reveal that they suffer more from the transmission and casualties of the virus and coincidentally they also suffer more from the economic downturn of the pandemic.
These measures as effective as they are in flattening the curve of the virus transmission are contrary to the essence of urban life or life as we know it generally. The cities are bereft of the bustling and hustling of life that it is known for.
Kano for example is one of the largest cities in Nigeria witnessing rapid urban expansion both spatially and demographically. Known for its high level of economic and commercial activities alongside its attendant human and traffic congestion, the city is devoid of its daily hustle and bustle due to the COVID19 lockdown orders. These were instituted following a spike in suspected COVID19 related deaths in the city. Open spaces are empty, the bus/taxi parks are devoid of the usual crowd, major markets are bare and patronages at departmental stores are low. Urban residents are forced to keep to themselves, stay indoors to keep safe and stop the spread of the virus, use of public places and public transportation systems have been banned (at least temporarily), interstate travel have also been banned. These measures are not without their attendant effects as man by his/her very nature is social (thrives on daily interaction with others) and is in constant motion. Physiologically, the effect leads to sense of loneliness and depression while economically; it leads to the loss of livelihood means for small scale informal businesses and loss of social capital.
Being a predominately Muslim society, the ban on congregating for prayers in Kano resonates negatively with its residents, especially during the ongoing Ramadhan period. The mosque(s) serve as a place of social contact i.e being both a place of worship and place of social gathering (community register/center). Coping strategies are in the form of small prayer groups within homes and a noticeable increase in home based businesses for survival and more online presence for those who have keyed into the digital world. By implication these measures can lead to a loss of the community and social life.
In terms of urban planning, the effect of Covid -19 will linger long after the virus has been overcome as it will affect how open and public spaces are used and subsequently designed. The urban space as a collective space will be under scrutiny and not as free as it once was, as urban residents will be more hesitant in patronizing public places and transportation systems without restraint.
To mitigate the effect of viral transmission now and in the future, safety and health concerns to use of public spaces and places in cities have to be applied. Urban planners have to proactively approach the city design itself, look beyond just the functionality of shared public spaces and transportation systems. Focus has to be on how these public spaces and systems could as potential hives of transmission in a pandemic like this be managed/redesigned and fitted to prevent spread and make such spaces safer. City planners and managers have to think about alternatives to the primate city model where all systems and activities are concentrated in a single place. To achieve this urban actors have to look into ways in which mega cities can be better managed in smaller individual units of equal standing within regions i. e polycentric urban regions; decentralize and decongest population, public facilities and infrastructure to improve quality of life and ensure urban sustainability.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria