It seems inevitable, in the short-term at least, that Wuhan will be remembered most widely outside of China as the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak.
As the crisis expands globally, cities are acting as petri dishes for the pandemic. From essential municipal power, water and waste systems to resilient digital connectivity and supply chains, urban infrastructure is being tested - in the extreme - as residents’ movements are restricted and working from home becomes the new norm for entire populations.
This sudden new reality is providing city planners with a real-time lesson in future living. The critical need for adaptable, sustainable, urban solutions is paramount. And here too, Wuhan is at the centre of the change. Sadly, for its city planners, the coronavirus pandemic belies the positive and (literally) groundbreaking steps Wuhan had been taking to tackle extreme flooding caused by climate change - another global urbanisation challenge threatening dire outcomes. If global observers are willing to engage with Wuhan in a different context they could learn valuable lessons about mitigating this other looming threat.
Historically, Wuhan’s landscape was an expanse of concrete and asphalt, making it highly vulnerable to flood risk. In 2016, torrential rains hit the city, cutting off entire neighbourhoods and claiming 14 lives.
In response, Wuhan embarked upon an urban and ecological makeover - from permeable pavements to wetlands and artificial ponds - designed to absorb storm water and even reuse it later.
Today, Wuhan is one of China's growing number of "sponge cities" that are using technology to mitigate the effects of extreme weather caused by global warming. It is also an illustration of how tackling climate change is creating opportunities for companies to generate shareholder returns while doing good for the planet.
Arcadis, a Dutch engineering group, is behind the project to rethink and help shape policies in Wuhan. Suez Environment, another European company, is working in the city of Chongqing where its state-of-the-art urban drainage system provides real-time analysis and forecasting of drainage, reuse of water and exposure to flood risk.