Cities in a Post-COVID World

This 2020 academic article written by Richard Florida, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, and Michael Storper explores the future of our cities, with a focus on four key forces brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic: social scarring; lockdown as a forced experiment; the need for more resilient urban built environments; and changes in the urban form and system. The authors argue that, in the long term, the pandemic is unlikely to alter the spatial inequality of the global city system. However, they recognise it might bring a series of short-term and some longer-running social changes to our cities, depending on the length of the pandemic.

Date added 30 September 2020
Last updated 30 September 2020

This academic article written by Richard Florida, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, and Michael Storper explores the future of our cities post-COVID19. They observe how cities have been significantly disrupted by past crises and outbreaks; however, none of these have stifled their long-term viability:

“COVID-19 is not the first virus to strike our cities, nor will it be the last. Over the course of history, cities have often been hotbeds of contagion. The Black Plagues of the fourteenth century killed a third of Europe and the Middle East. The Cholera outbreaks of the decimated London, Paris, Moscow, Hamburg, New York, Chicago, and Washington DC, among other large cities... The Spanish Flu – took the life of as many as 50 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1920... but none of them succeeded in denting the role large cities have in society” (pp. 1-2).

Nevertheless, the article identifies four key forces brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, which could generate long-term transformations of cities as we know them today. These forces are explored in depth, at both macro (inter-regional) and micro (neighbourhood, districts) urban levels, with key findings summarised below.

The four forces on cities

1. Social scarring (will ultimately disappear but the timeline is unclear)

Concerns around the virus spreading has induced fears of crowded places. This has impacted businesses, social gathering spaces, and travel and commute patterns. Although there are anxieties about city dwellers moving out to the suburbs to find more private spaces, the authors suggest some groups will continue to be drawn to city life, especially more educated and younger age groups. However, for other groups, how much they are drawn to the suburbs will depend on the length of the pandemic, and fears of crowds.

2. Forced lockdown experiment (long-lasting transformations in work and shopping)

Lengthy confinements have stimulated a shift to remote work, online shopping, and increased social media usage. The long-term impacts of working from home on cities depends on the type of employment (essential work that cannot be done remotely; high-touch, public-facing work; and knowledge work that can be done fully or partly remotely), each of which will experience different impacts, whether redundancies, additional health and safety measures, or interpersonal relationships. Even a partial shift to remote work could have significant impacts on mobility, transport, and real estate in our cities.

Resilient urban environments (health-induced transformations may be durable)

Many urban spaces will need to be modified to meet social distancing guidelines. Architects, designers, and planners will have to consider long-term changes to enhance resilience to future crises. Many places will have to operate at reduced capacity for some time, such as restaurants, stores, and theatres. Cities will also have to pandemic-proof key infrastructure such as transport, stadiums, and shopping malls going forwards.

Urban form changes (there is opportunity for long-term reinvention)

There could be permanent changes to the configuration of indoor and outdoor spaces, beyond the pandemic, for health benefits and greater enjoyment. As well as changes to where people live and work. Less demand for office space may offer opportunities for conversion into residential or to innovate to provide new offerings. The authors underline the importance of considering inclusivity and equality when thinking about future city design and planning.

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