March 27, 2020

Credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

City life has, mostly, slowed to a standstill. Madison Square Garden isn’t hosting basketball games. You can’t grab a drink at the bar around the corner. Great public spaces - the Spanish Steps, Times Square, Las Ramblas - are empty

This situation won’t go on forever, of course. But the coronavirus pandemic will leave a permanent mark on our cities. That’s according to Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and co-founder of the website CityLab. He explains how cities can adapt to help lessen the impact of the pandemic, and discusses the ways our urban life will change.

Three Takeaways

  • Florida points out that health and sanitation issues have always shaped the development of cities. The rise of public parks, water fountains and sewer systems were at least partly in response to concerns about health. But pandemics don’t stop the rise and growth of cities. According to Florida, “if you look at the course of human history, from the plagues in London, the black plague, cholera epidemics, the Spanish Flu… none of them have really made a dent in this great force of urbanization… So I think in the long run, cities and urbanization will be fine. The question is how we best protect ourselves, our communities, our loved ones, the vulnerable, and all of us during the short run.”
  • There’s a lot that leaders can do to keep our cities and communities healthy and safe. Among Florida’s many recommendations: protect main street businesses and arts organizations that give a city its character and make sure that they’re able to reopen. Focus more on telework, and support the workers who can do their jobs remotely. Also, rethink how our society treats and compensates front-line workers: the health care aids, grocery store clerks, and delivery people who keep the economy running. Upgrade their work, pay, and health care.
  • According to Florida, our cities are going to change in ways both big and small. Often, because cities need to spread people out to promote social distancing “The creation of new open spaces, the use and separation of transport types, the use of bike lanes, the pedestrianization of streets, all of this stuff is going to bear an imprint… All of these things will happen and they’ll change our cities, but we’ll forget why they happened.” 

More Reading

  • Richard Florida has co-authored a ten-point preparedness plan for communities to deal with the pandemic. Here’s the article.
  • What do cities look like during the coronavirus? The New York Times has some evocative photos.
  • In 2018, we talked to Laura Spinney about the ways the Spanish Flu transformed our world. Here's the interview.

urban design, coronavirus, covid19, pandemics, health, Richard Florida

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