The Big Rethink Design Exchange

COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge for urban societies everywhere. NewCities have postponed the announcement of the Wellbeing Cities Award finalists and postpone the Wellbeing Cities Forum to September 15 and 16, 2020.

NewCities launched The Big Rethink: Cities After COVID-19, an online 8-week series of live discussions bringing together leading global experts to examine the longer-term impacts of the COVID-19.

NEXT TALK: Is It Finally Infrastructure Week? July 29, 2020 17.00pm GMT| 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

If construction happens in a city and no one is around to complain… is it completed ahead of schedule and under budget? Until very recently, frustrations with never ending construction were simply part of urban experience. With traffic significantly reduced by COVID-19, infrastructure projects all over the world are being undertaken at a rapid rate and resulting in significant cost reductions. In many cities, local leaders are taking the opportunity to construct infrastructure that prioritizes wellbeing, such as bike lane networks in Bogotá and increased space for pedestrians in Athens. These places and others are not only betting on the fact that cities will bounce back, but that this is an incredible opportunity to improve them.

Yet it’s been a long time since infrastructure was simply about planes, trains, and automobiles; digital infrastructure – IoT, sensors, big data, et al – has proliferated in cities all over the world, and COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for a massive increase in surveillance technology for purposes of tracing infection patterns. 

In this episode of The Big Rethink, we’ll take a long look at the many interpretations of infrastructure in cities and how they’re being altered by COVID-19. We’ll explore ambitious, wellbeing-focused infrastructure projects from all over the world, the scale of funding required for cities to keep riding this infrastructure wave, and whether the proliferation of surveillance technology today foreshadows a world of cities without privacy.

Register HERE


Week 8 Talk: Lessons For Greenfield Megaprojects May 26, 17.00pm GMT | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

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Having seen COVID-19 disrupt the very functioning of cities worldwide, what would we do differently if we built a new city from scratch? While many of us are grappling with how to transform age-old systems to better serve citizens in the wake of a global pandemic, greenfield megaprojects around the globe have the unique and unprecedented opportunity of starting with a blank slate. Having this freedom enables the synthesis of best practices and bleeding-edge solutions in everything from health to climate resilience to cleantech. It also raises the question of who will finance and build and benefit from this optimization — the wealthy who typically inhabit these places, or the public as part of a green new deal?

In this episode of The Big Rethink, we’ll discuss how greenfield city planners are trying to pandemic-proof their projects on the fly, and what lessons they’re learning from elsewhere when it comes to reinventing critical infrastructure. We’ll also explore the future trajectory of these developments. Having already been criticized as exclusionary, will COVID-19 provide a new pretext for discrimination? Will global elites flock to new gated communities? Or will governments and investors work together to pilot novel combinations of low-carbon infrastructure, planning for public health, and accessibility?


Week 7 Talk: Decarbonizing the Hard Way May 19, 17.00pm GMT | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

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Ready for an inconvenient truth? Images of clear waterways and clean skies provide a devastating glimpse into the extent to which business-as-usual human activity impacts the planet, but they don’t depict an effective response to climate change. Climate action at the order of magnitude necessary to stabilize the planet requires more so that we can have less: more behavioral change, investment into the zero-carbon transition, and protections for vulnerable populations to make sure that less pollution and inequality becomes the global norm. Doing so at a time when oil traders literally can’t give their contracts away may require more than just markets or incentives — what should a Green Bailout look like?

On this episode of The Big Rethink, we explore the opportunities provided by COVID-19 to set a precedent that accelerates global climate action. We’ll discuss why denser cities are more energy efficient, the chicken or egg dynamic between political will and clean energy technology, the importance of a unified global response, and why we need to prioritize the most vulnerable.


Week 6 Talk: The How, What and Where of Work May 12, 2020 17.00pm GMT | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

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In the context of COVID-19, the term ‘essential’ has gone beyond defining indispensable activities and labor during a time of crisis and entered the realm of Orwellian doublespeak. The pandemic has only accelerated a much larger conversation being led by market forces, the development and accessibility of technology, and other mega-trends about what is essential –and by definition, non-essential– about work in cities.

On this episode of The Big Rethink, we take a deep dive into the how, what, and where of the future of the urban workforce. We’ll discuss the dissonance in naming workers as essential whilst not providing protections or a living wage, why the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires skills-friendly cities, and whether the modern brick-and-mortar office will itself soon be deemed as non-essential.


Week 5 Talk: Beyond Megacities: Rethinking Density May 5 2020 17.00pm GMT | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

If you missed this talk listen to it HERE


Location, location, location. Repeat twice daily to justify some of the most troubling trends in modern urban development. We use location – and the idea that there’s a scarcity of lively, walkable, employment-rich city centers – to champion density as simply good urbanism, while rarely stopping to consider what “density” really means. The pandemic has revealed the stark contrast between density sheltering affluent residents in locations with an abundance of amenities, and crowding designed to trap forgotten residents on the peripheries of cities — density that’s deadly.

Future-proofing our cities after COVID-19 demands a more nuanced conversation than heralding the triumph of the mega-city. Grappling with the densities of banlieues, favelas, slums, and legacy cities requires understanding how these places actually work, acknowledging what they lack — adequate housing and healthcare, both contributors to the spread of disease — and helping residents help themselves.


Week 4 Talk: The Wellbeing Imperative April 28, 2020 17.00pm GMT | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

If you missed this talk listen to it HERE

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As the world’s urban population continues to grow, global health is becoming increasingly synonymous with urban health. The spread of COVID-19 has revealed the extent to which cities impact what we understand about disease:  population density and a world of places connected by business and tourism accelerated the spread of the virus; poor air quality has been linked to the aggravation of symptoms; and the crisis has highlighted the disproportionate vulnerability of the urban poor, the elderly, and historically segregated communities. 

COVID-19 has also revealed the extent to which, although many people are craving some semblance of normalcy, not everybody wants things to go back to normal. The pandemic has not only given us pause to consider how we plan our cities, but also how we evaluate the results of our planning. If we truly want things to be different, then it’s time to make wellbeing and health a priority in urban policy and planning. 

On this episode of The Big Rethink, we envision a world of cities planned with health and wellbeing as a priority. We’ll discuss why this crisis puts the need for a new planning paradigm into perspective, the impact of COVID-19 on local communities and how they’ve adjusted the way they work, and what lessons from the last few weeks could be integrated in order to build equity, health, and wellbeing into long-term urban planning. 


Week 3 Talk Housing: Room for Improvement, April 21, 2020 17.00pm GMT | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

If you missed this talk listen to it HERE

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Global orders to “shelter in place” implies housing is indeed a fundamental human right, but even a cursory reading of housing policies suggests this is an aspirational goal, at best. The economic fallout of COVID-19 has pushed two unspoken truths about housing into the spotlight — a majority of individuals are living on a knife-edge, and this is not the result of some personal failing. Since the economic crisis in 2008, speculation on property has proliferated and rent has consistently exceeded inflation and real wage growth. Is housing as a human right and housing as an asset class mutually exclusive? Or might we yet manage to build our way out?

On this episode of The Big Rethink, in collaboration with McKinsey Global Institute, we explore whether COVID-19 reveals a world of housing regimes in need of minor repairs, gut renovations, or a complete teardown. We’ll discuss the crisis of homelessness during a period of stay-at-home orders, how planning systems in different places approach the relationship between market and state, and the changes which could be made to housing regimes moving forward.

If you missed this talk listen to it HERE


Week 2 Talk: How Public Transport Bounces Back April 14, 2020, 17.00pm GMT | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

The Big Rethink - Design Exchange NewCities

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars,” former Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa once said. “It’s where the rich use public transportation.” At the moment, America’s urban elites are definitely not taking transit. Trains and buses are empty save for lower-income “essential” workers. Coronavirus has once again demonstrated transit’s role as the backbone of cities — and triggered an unprecedented collapse in ridership that threatens its very existence.

A $25 billion federal bailout will backstop American cities through the crisis, but how can public transport – which requires riders to be in close proximity by design – regain the public’s trust once the pandemic ebbs? In addition to a healthy dose of disinfectant, one idea imported from Europe is simply to make transit free. Because at this point, what revenue do cities have left to lose? 

Special guests: Alice N. Bravo, Mohamed MezghaniJohn Siraut and host Greg Lindsay 


Week 1 Talk: If you missed the first discussion held on April 7th, 2020? Click here to listen: Special guests Richard Sennett, Christopher Hawthorne, Jeanne Gang and host Greg Lindsay discuss the lasting impacts of the pandemic on public space.

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