#25 - 17 April 2020

Taking distance: back to Singapore

The use of data to halt the spread of the epidemic is widely commented on, with a focus on the solutions developed by the Asian states which have rapidly "flattened" (South Korea, Singapore) or even cancelled out the epidemiological curve (Taiwan). However, as we have already pointed out, it is indeed the triptych of data/distance/testing that enabled these countries to control the epidemic without containing it. In this respect, the link between the first two elements of the triptych, data and distancing, deserves to be examined. The subject of data is certainly fascinating, but it is now obvious that, during the period in which we will have to live with the virus, "distance" will become the keyword in our behavior as urban dwellers.

The action on physical distancing is itself based on three levers: personal discipline, action on public space (widening it, markings on the ground...) and the use of data. On this last point, it is worth looking at what both the Singaporean State and the city of Singapore are doing: one of Singapore's great strengths is its ability to act both on regalian matters in a very centralized manner and with the pragmatism and efficiency required for the provision of urban services. Once again, Singapore is demonstrating remarkable and inspiring initiatives.

The first of these, Space Out, is a real-time mapping of shopping centers, supermarkets and post offices, developed by the powerful Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in conjunction with the operators of these public places. The maps show, in real time, the level of frequentation of these places; by clicking on each one, a daily schedule regularly updated allows you to see, hour by hour, the level of frequentation during the past week. The second, Safe Distance @ Parks, is based on the same principle, presenting a real-time map of public park usage developed by the NParks green spaces agency, based on data collected directly by the agency. It should be recalled that 47% of the surface area of the city-state is made up of green spaces.

Once again, the Singaporean approach is distinguished by its ability to create effective alliances, serving both health and the economy. Of course, the existence of powerful public agencies facilitates these multi-actor approaches, but even in Singapore, the city's actors have their own agendas and cultures: even in Singapore, aligning positions requires negotiation. Moreover, by putting data at the service of citizen-consumers, it helps to create trust. This is a crucial point, especially for the period during which we will have to coexist with the virus, in the non-containment or partial containment phases. Faced with the uncertainty as to when this crisis will end, confidence is the fundamental basis that will enable the resumption of social relations, in a context where each may represent a danger to the other, the resumption of economic activity and the continuity of democratic life at a time when governments are being called upon to intervene massively, economically, legally and socially, sometimes in a very intrusive way, in our daily lives. – Cécile Maisonneuve, President
→ Find out more about Singapore and about public space.

Many thanks to Fabien Clavier, urban planner and researcher, attached to the Future Cities Laboratory at ETH Zurich in Singapore, for reporting on this Singaporean news.

No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

DOOR-TO-DOOR (1) The mayor of Monrovia, Liberia, has mobilized 6,000 employees to visit households in his constituency to explain the appropriate sanitary attitude and identify the sick. The measure is being criticized by part of the population who points the risks of spreading the virus through measures that seek to contain it. Between the political risks of digital tracing approaches and the sanitary risks of social measures, the debate is open on which options protect best people’s integrity. – Raphaël Languillon-Aussel, Senior Research Manager


EMERGENCY ARCHITECTURE – Architects around the world are mobilizing to design or adapt plans for Emergency Quarantine Facilities (EQF) and medical emergencies. The objective is to build up hospitals’ maximum capacity and counter the ongoing pandemic. Discover here photographs and explanations about WTA Architecture and Design Studio’s take on these new medical emergency facilities. – Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer
Related: Cécile Maisonneuve’s interview of Carlo Ratti, architect, founder of the Carlo Ratti Associati agency and director of the Senseable City Lab at the MIT, about his open-source project of containers converted into intensive care units (ICU), and the use of data for the common good.


DOOR-TO-DOOR (2) – The ongoing debate on surveillance through contact tracing is not limited to digital applications. India is relying on an existing infectious disease surveillance network to successfully identify and isolate clusters, that relies on door-to-door rather than new technologies or tests . Canvassing is said to be more effective in the most disadvantaged – and most monitored – social classes than among the wealthier citizens, which manage to avoid control and to hide their disease for fear of ostracism. – Chloë Voisin-Bormuth, Director of studies and research


BACK TO THE FUTURE?Looking at China’s recovery from the 2003 SARS outbreak can be instructive to prepare the COVID-19 recovery. That same psychology that drove commuters out of mass transit could soon play out in markets where car ownership is low and drive a rebound effect in traffic congestion and CO2 emissions. – Camille Combe, Project Manager


“MY HOME IS NOT FOR YOUR PROFIT” – … read a placard last week in Minneapolis, when housing advocates organized a car rally in front of the downtown offices of U.S. Bank, to request utility payments, rent and mortgage cancellations from the U.S. Bank. As rent strikes and confrontations between landlords and renters multiply, the looming American housing crises is becoming clearer and clearer, and local executives and representatives call for national and long-term solutions. – Sarah Cosatto
→ Related: our issue brief about affordable housing from our new project “Across cities in crisis”.

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