During the fifth International Conference on Urban and Regional Planning, urban experts and researchers discussed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on urban and regional planning in Pakistan.
The Department of Architecture & Planning (DAP) at the City Campus of the NED University of Engineering & Technology (NEDUET) organised the two-day conference titled ‘Perspective on Pandemic: Impact on Urban Pedagogies, Research and Practice’.
A large number of architects, planners, academics, researchers and students of diverse backgrounds attended the conference that concluded on Saturday. Of the 21 abstracts submitted, 10 papers were shortlisted and finalised for the conference. Thirteen panellists and experts enriched the discussions in four sessions through their respective insights.
DAP Chairperson Dr Anila Naeem highlighted the need for scholarly debate on the theme itself, while HANDS CEO Dr Shaikh Tanvir said that without strengthening the health system, future pandemics cannot be dealt with.
Haris Gazdar, a senior researcher at the Collective for Social Science and Research, said that knowledge can be atomised into the known, the unknown and the knowable.
“By the same token, knowledge and its agency need to be understood through the lens of the pandemic,” he said. Some broad data about mortality and recovery is available, and certain contextual data and the methods of interpretation need to be improved, he added.
Sharing his observations on how education has been managed during the pandemic, NEDUET Dean Dr Noman Ahmad said the education system has been transformed but to the advantage of the wealthy, as low-income groups have been excluded.
He also said how spaces have been modified to cope with the pandemic also needs to be studied. He appreciated the fact that it was remarkable how the three tiers of governments — federal, provincial and local — united to fight the pandemic and succeeded.
Dr Rand Eppich, a conservation architect, said urban planning, particularly for historical cities, requires extensive community involvement, given a large number of public and private stakeholders. “Unilateral top-down decisions of the early 20th century made it clear that community involvement was essential to planning.”
Dr Mansoor Ali, Dr Suneela Ahmed and Dr Saeed Ud Din Ahmed presented their paper titled ‘Researching with Uncertainties of Pandemic’, while Alireza Moghayedi, Abid Mehmood, Vasilena Vassilev, Rania Aburamadan, Karen Blay, Dori Nguyen and Prabina Shrestha presented their paper titled ‘Interrelationships Between Sustainability and Well-being: Three Cases from the Global South’.
Dr Jonathan Calame, an American scholar of architectural history and urban development, talked about how architects can be essential healthcare workers. Chinonyerem Ugwuonah, an architect and researcher, presented her paper titled ‘Covid Ruins Tomorrow’s Homes’.
She said that acute housing shortage and empty office spaces are likely to emerge as critical urban issues of the post-pandemic metropolitan cities, considering that the new norms of existential patterns have brought about visible socio-economic impacts.
Aamina Shahid, an academic at COMSATS Islamabad, presented her paper titled ‘Pandemic as an Opportunity to Re-prioritise Equitable Urban Design Planning and Policy’, while Adam Abdullah, Soha Macktoom and Aqdus Fatima presented their paper titled ‘Intersection of Density, Materiality, Heat and Containment in the Post-Pandemic Urbans of the Global South’.
Fazal Noor, an academic at the Sir Syed University of Engineering & Technology, presented his paper titled ‘Prerequisites, Opportunities and Pitfalls of Online Studios’, saying that physical lockdown of higher educational institutions forced the Higher Education Commission to allow universities to conduct learning and examinations online.
Uzma Kabir and Sannah Ejaz, academics at COMSATS Islamabad, raised some very interesting questions: how does one teach a subject that requires extensive site surveys and interaction with people to gather base data for design in an environment where a pandemic is rampant.
Dr Mohammad Faruk and Shayeeka Binte Alam, academics from Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, presented their paper titled ‘An Evaluation of Online Design Studios, Strength and Weakness of Architectural Education in Bangladesh During Covid-19’. At the end of the conference, Dr Masooma Shakir of the NEDUET presented a technical overview of the sessions, while Anum Mufti, lecturer at the NEDUET, synthesised the two days’ findings in a comprehensive manner.
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