Is Covid-19 going to change our cities? This was the question posed by Norman Foster, the founder of London-studio Foster + Partners, in his speech to the United Nations Forum of Mayors in Geneva.
“I suggest that it might seem so now, but in the wider arc of history, the answer is no.” Norman explained. He believes that the current pandemic will accelerate current trends. “Instead of change, the crisis has merely hastened and magnified the inevitable. It has accelerated the trends of change that were already apparent before the pandemic.”
Crisis leads to improvement
Foster compared the current coronavirus pandemic with previous crises that impacted cities and led to improvements in building standards and health-driven architecture.
• “Take London as an example,” he explained. “The Great Fire of 1666 created building codes that led to fireproof brick construction.
• “The Cholera Epidemic of the mid-nineteenth century cleaned up the Thames from an open sewer and was the birth of modern sanitisation. In its wake came the healthy dimension of public parks.
• “Then Tuberculosis struck and helped the birth of the modern movement in architecture – big windows, sunlight, terraces, white and clean.”
Foster said that every one of those consequences – fireproof construction, sewers, green parks, modernism – would have happened anyway and not just in London, but in cities around the world. This is because cities learn from each other – each crisis hastens and magnifies the inevitable.
Sustainable buildings could become mainstream
A London-based architect, who was a key figure in the development of high-tech architecture, believes that the coronavirus pandemic could speed up the adoption of more sustainable buildings and transport.
He pointed out that there is now scientific evidence to prove that green buildings with natural ventilation are not only good for our health and but enable us to perform better. These kinds of buildings might be the exception, but they could become mainstream. He said have proof that green spaces in cities – however big or small – contribute to health and wellbeing.
For transport, he predicted that current trends towards electric vehicles will continue the use of e-bikes and scooters will increase. Charging on the move could also be introduced and monorails could return. He said car parks could be obsolete and went on to predict that farming could make a return to cities as one of several ways – that urban areas could become greener.
The cumulative effect of just some of these many trends are transforming city centres and local neighbourhoods, making them quieter, cleaner, safer, healthier, more friendly, walkable, bikeable and, if the opportunity is grasped, will be greener,” he said.
In the future home, form will follow infection
The architect concluded by saying that the current crisis could lead to cities being improved to become places that are more appealing to live in and more resilient to future health issues. He sees the pandemic is a tragic event where many of us may lose loved ones. Unfortunately, for the moment, the virus continues. However, he is confident that cities will prove their resilience and appeal and will bounce back stronger and better as a consequence.
Supporting much of what Foster said in his speech, Richard Florida, American author and academic said, “Cities will survive. The gloom and doom prognostications are overblown.”
According to urban theorist, Richard Florida, cities will bounce back as young creatives take advantage of lower rents and dense urban areas prove better at mitigating the coronavirus pandemic.
“The pandemic may make cities more affordable to artists and creatives,” he said, adding that dense neighbourhoods have been better at mitigating and combating the crisis when compared to suburbs or the countryside.
Reduced demand for office space will drive down rent
However, Covid-19 will lead to changes in the way cities are configured with fewer people travelling to offices and retail hubs in urban centres.
“The biggest impact on cities is going to be reduced demand for office work in the central city,” he explained. “That’s going to create a real opportunity for driving down rents and converting commercial areas to residential – and there’ll be less demand for retail.”
“And our cities will need artists and creatives to help rebuild, especially as there’s less demand for offices because of remote work and less demand for retail spaces because of online shopping.”
The rise in remote working will make cities more, not less important, he argued, since people working from home will become more reliant on their immediate neighbourhoods for everything from childcare to having a haircut to socialising.
“Where you live becomes more important than ever before, not less, because you can’t get on a plane, you don’t go to the office. You are kind of stuck in your neighbourhood.”
We are going through a great urban reset
Richard is best known for his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which argues that the most economically productive cities are those that attract creative people, who seek out tolerance, diversity and a wide range of cultural activities.
“Covid-19 has combined with the new urban crisis and the recent protests against racial inequality to provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the long history of economic injustice and racial division, to reset and rebuild our communities – not just our big cities, our big cities and small cities, our suburbs and rural areas in ways that are better.”
“We are going through a great urban reset,” he declared. “I would argue this is the greatest urban reset in a century. It is our opportunity. No, it’s our obligation together to do this.”
Our sincere thanks and appreciation to Marcus Fairs and the Guardian for the information contained in this reworked article.
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