Pandemics and the city (I): After Covid-19, the cities of the future

Lucía Rodriguez Loureiro

ID’s recommended reads – 02/12/2020 – Lucía Rodriguez Loureiro


“Hygiene and moral health depend on the layout of the cities. Without hygiene and moral health, the social cell becomes atrophied”, Le Corbusier, The City of Tomorrow and its Planning, 1928.

Throughout History, pandemics have shaped urban configurations. Waterborne and vector-borne infectious diseases, such as cholera and yellow fever, fostered the modernization and renovation of the sewerage systems and sanitation measures in many cities from the 1850s onwards. Airborne infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis have, however, spread easily in cities as of the 19th Century, affecting lower-class groups due to worse living conditions such as overcrowding and insufficient indoor ventilation. Despite initiatives in the 20th Century such as the Garden City movement aimed at increasing green and blue spaces in cities, or from Modernist architecture to create open, light and fair housing for all social strata, the containment measures for these diseases are still approached clinically.

The Covid-19 crisis now forces us to rethink urban planning for the ‘post-pandemic city’. Dense city centres have a major role in the spread of the virus, since they act as hubs of economic and social activities — thus boosting social interactions. The pandemics could change the way people interact and move in urban areas. In this recent Financial Times article, several experts foretell a post-pandemic scenario including city reconfiguration with a key role for local governments, which could hopefully lead to more liveable cities with greater space for cultural and outdoor recreational activities.


This week’s ID’s recommended reads: a report on how the current urbanisation and growth models are unsustainable and help to promote infectious disease transmission, an overview on proposed built environment interventions to allow social distancing while promoting well-being, and a critical review of emerging questions on the future of public spaces.

1) Urbanisation and infectious diseases in a globalised world
Alirol, E., Getaz, L., Stoll, B., et al. (2010).

Globally, two factors are acknowledged to exponentially increase the risk of infectious disease transmission: the ongoing accelerated urbanisation processes in low and middle-income countries and the highly interconnected urban hubs worldwide acting as catalysts for the spread of infectious diseases. A take-home message from this report: targeting surveillance, prevention and contention measures is highly important, but it will not be enough if urban health is not contemplated. Interventions should thus aim at assuring sustainable and social urban development.

2) Antivirus built environment: Lessons learned from Covid-19 pandemic
Megahed, N.A., Ghoneim, E. (2020).

Megahed & Ghoneim compile the recent literature on potential measures to ensure social distancing and come up with propositions on how we can design the post-pandemic city. A unique asset of this paper is that it also presents health care facilities and workspaces as areas to prioritise to prevent the transmission of future disease outbreaks, aside from buildings and neighbourhoods.

3) The Impact of COVID-19 on Public Space: A Review of the Emerging Questions
Honey-Rosés, J., Anguelovski, I., Bohigas, J., et al. (2020). OSF Preprints, 21 Apr 2020. Web.

From a more cautious standpoint, Honey-Rosés et al. present a critical review of questions left unanswered about the future of public space in cities. Will the foreseen changes be fundamental, leading to a durable, profound transformation of public space? Or will they only be superficial and temporary? Will the surge of big data and the ‘smart city’ model infringe fundamental civil rights? Will urban transformations reproduce social inequalities? Or will they consider specific needs of vulnerable populations?