Through history, pandemics have shaped cities, introducing noticeable changes in their development. From ancient Athens, medieval towns to modern cities the plagues have posed serious challenges on the life of citizens that prompted urban planners to give novel solutions to cope with them and allowed the societies to survive.
Examples include Victoria Embankment in London as a response to a cholera outbreak in 19th century that led to a new arrangement of water intake and sewage along the Thames river, or Black Death in Middle Ages, that indeed, brought up the modern concept of Urban Planning whatsoever.
And now we got Coronavirus, a pandemic that has exposed deficiencies in the way we currently develop cities, in spite of that such pandemics were long ago forecasted by scientist.
The current mainstream in urban design leans towards developing compact, concentrated, dense cities, with the aim of optimising resources, including energy efficiency and we can see this type of development in cities like Moscow in recent years. However, there is an underlying tension with another stream of thinking, moving the opposite way: the will to create urban disaggregation in the form of small towns or villages, fuelled by the accumulation of wealth and the fast development of technology.
The Coronavirus pandemic has unveiled the potential harm that extreme density in cities poses to the personal health and hygiene. Social distancing and other prophylactic measures are hard to implement and follow. It is becoming clear that living in “bird-caged” dwellings might not contribute to the social health and it could even be unnecessary from a labour point of view with the rise of telework. We would expect in the future to see more solutions towards disaggregation rather than to densification in urban planning.
Urban disaggregation is becoming feasible, not only because affluent owners can afford full-equipped houses far away from city centres, promoted by the overwhelming presence of social-internet technology everywhere, but because this technology is becoming more affordable for the average citizen.
As said before, densely populated cities are more energy efficient, but by no means this should be used as a pretext to demise the development of rural or small towns and villages, if the houses and buildings to be built there meet the goals on energy efficiency.
It is the task of developers and policymakers to set the economic and social conditions which would foster a reversal wave of outward migration into “rural” settlements. Living in developed – equipped with infrastructure – small rural towns or villages should not be a privilege of the wealthy, but a mass attribute for whole society.