Greg Lindsay's Blog

March 31, 2020  |  permalink

NewCities: When a Pandemic Goes Viral


What a difference a month makes. My March began with a family Spring Break trip to Disneyland – today it ends with our third week in cozy self-quarantine amidst the steadily mounting severity of the global coronavirus pandemic. With my travel grounded for the foreseeable future and NewCities’ events postponed to the fall, my colleagues and I have turned our attention to how cities will emerge stronger from a crisis that calls urban density into question – and have recruited an all-start list of contributors to help.

Titled “When a Pandemic Goes Viral,” this installment of NewCities’ Big Picture series explores the urban implications of the virus:

• Saskia Sassen asks whether cities are at war – not only with the virus but with unmanageable complexity: “We have increasingly lost control over a rapidly growing range of innovations and conditions. We are on the other side of the curve. Most of us, cannot see or understand, or grasp this. But we also know that across the globe –from the people of the Sahel to Minnesota’s farmers—many in the new generations can see what we can no longer recognize. And they are telling us: Enough!”

Richard Sennett warns against the impulse to tighten surveillance to tame the virus and the incentives to either dismiss the threat or panic.“This is a time to fear the opportunity the pandemic offers the ruling powers, to reject the theatre of panic staged in the media, and to affirm the power of civil society in the city.”

• State of Place’s Mariela Alfonzo offers a ten-point plan for citymakers on how to revitalize public space once “social distancing” is over. “Here’s how I think we should regroup, rethink, retool, and rebuild per our roles as citymakers – as those whose job, and purpose, it is to spark joy by creating places people love…not just despite global crises, in spite of them.”

• Eva Hagberg reflects on how the virus has taken the city from us, and rendered architecture almost meaningless in the interim: “And so for the good of our cities, for the faith that urban life will eventually roar back, we are quarantining. We are returning to architecture as its most basic form, a type of shelter that will not protect us from the storm, nor the virus. But it will demarcate something. The time before we cared. The time now.”

You can read the entire series – with new installments daily – right here.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the director of applied research at NewCities and director of strategy at its mobility offshoot CoMotion.  He is also a partner at FutureMap, a geo-strategic advisory firm based in Singapore, a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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