We asked female leaders, who will be speaking at our summit in 2021, to share their personal thoughts on the challenges, opportunities and new perspectives they have personally encountered as they navigate through the still ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This special series should inspire and encourage you to continue to manage the crisis in the best possible way. This is where Prof Vanessa Miriam Carlow, who is a single parent, has her say.
Vanessa was appointed full professor at the TU Braunschweig in 2012, where she heads the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (ISU) (sustainableurbanism.de). She is a licensed architect and urban planner, and founder of COBE Berlin (2012, cobe.de), a practice focusing on architecture, urban planning, public space design, and research.
Vanessa’s research explores strategies and tools for sustainable urban development in the context of worldwide urbanization. Her professional work has garnered prestigious prizes, including the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale (2006, Best National Pavilion), the MIPIM Award Cannes (2012), and the Golden Medal for the best of Copenhagen Buildings (2012).
I understand the current situation as a huge societal challenge, in which my personal wellbeing or that of my family may have been slightly inconvenienced – not more. Unlike so many others, neither I nor my friends, family or direct co-workers have suffered from COVID-19 infection or any other severe consequences of the pandemic. Personally, I have no worries except for everyone I know – be it friends, co-workers, neighbours or family – to stay healthy. I feel extremely sorry for the many people who have or may lose their businesses or workplaces!
Relief through digitization
Seen in that light, the last year was a challenge, but nothing that my team and I couldn’t cope with! At the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (ISU) that I have been heading since 2012, we changed all of our teaching formats from presence to online learning within the course of two weeks. Since we have been experimenting with new digital solutions for teaching, like MOOCs and online tutorials before, the change worked out well and gave us the opportunity to explore a whole world of technical solutions out there, we didn’t even know they existed.
I remember the time with horror, when I had to travel through the entire country to attend a meeting for an hour or two! Instead, my team and I meet now online three days a week to discuss the work progress and relevant issues to our institute. I feel, we have become more efficient in exchanging ideas, also due to the fact that I spend less time in travel. At the beginning of the pandemic, our morning meetings also served the purpose to share worries and to keep everyone up to date on new regulations or recommendations. After all, we are people from eight different countries and four different continents and making sense of what was going on was a challenge for all of us.
Pressure from family responsibilities
Alas, a lot of pressure was put onto families in the last year. As a single mom of a then two-year old, the first three months of the pandemic were very rough. The work I had to accomplish in a short time spiked, but I had no childcare and no grandmother or other person whom I could ask for help. That meant for me getting up early in the morning, at least four days a week, sometimes at 1 o’clock, sometimes at 3’o clock to get some work done before my child woke up.
Even a year into the pandemic reliable childcare and robust schooling are not yet a reality for many. This regrettably will probably lead to the highest societal cost on a long term.
Prof Vanessa Miriam Carlow, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (ISU), Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany