How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Cities

The social and economic upheaval of the last two years accelerated a shift in thinking about how we use public space and organize the urban realm.

Read Time: 2 minutes

January 4, 2022, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

San Francisco Parklet

San Francisco Planning Department / Flickr

After decades of glacial progress on shifting public space away from a focus on cars, the disruption brought on by COVID-19 led to a radical rethinking of how we use roads and sidewalks. As Adam Rogers writes,

The virus—and specifically the understanding that as an aerosol it spread more easily in poorly ventilated spaces—changed something fundamental about urban life. The expansion of restaurants to curbside spaces and the closure of city streets to automobiles began in 2020, but in 2021 those alterations felt like a new phase in a decades-old cold war over the look and feel of the modern city.

Although the pandemic also halted progress that cities were making on increasing density and boosting public transit use, Rogers writes, the focus on social distancing and access to the outdoors brought a new urgency to reinventing the right-of-way for more people-oriented uses and encouraging walkable, bikeable neighborhoods. But this hasn't come without its own challenges: as cities scramble to create new regulatory frameworks for pandemic-era projects, the process often becomes onerous and expensive for small businesses and organizations. Meanwhile, disability advocates caution that some parklets impede access for wheelchairs, and public space proponents criticize dining setups for using public right-of-way for private businesses. 

Nevertheless, Rogers concludes optimistically, "this new image of the city offers a sense of possibility—of hope, even—in the fight against climate change and inequality."

Thursday, December 30, 2021 in Wired

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