Health crises and pandemics have shaped cities for centuries, how will the coronavirus crisis change how we plan and live in urban space? Adrian Dobson, the executive director for professional services at the Royal Institute of British Architects, thinks urban density comes and goes in waves. The development of the industrial cities in the 19th century generated both a public health response and birthed the Garden City movement, which tried to combine the best of the town and country. More recently, he notes, urban areas have become more dense again, both in living spaces and working places, with an emphasis on transport hubs to make these more sustainable than their low-density counterparts.
The initial response to covid-19, he says, will be driven more by emotion than science. Those who can will likely seek the comfort and space of surburbs and dormatory towns, as the experience of lockdown in London and other cities underlines the privations of urban life. More practically, he adds, we will have to adapt work spaces, care homes, education and medical facilities to cope with social distancing. Large public areas may give way to an emphasis on wider paths for travel by foot and cycle. The imperitive is, however, to build and invest in the infrastructure we know will serve us well in coming health challenges.