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The Post-Pandemic Urban Future Is Already Here

The coronavirus crisis stands to dramatically reshape cities around the world. But the biggest revolutions in urban space may have begun before the pandemic.
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Victor J. Blue/Getty Images

The harrowing reach of Covid-19 has prompted a surge in big urban thinking. Some of this has been cautionary in nature —  warnings against long-term changes in privacy norms or reactionary rethinking about densification. Haunting images of empty cityscapes seem to embody the fear that urban space will be permanently marked by the ravages of the disease. Others see an equally radical vision of hope: As lifestyle and consumption habits have transformed overnight and governments have committed trillions of dollars of investment in national economies, perhaps the challenges of overcoming the coronavirus pandemic might ultimately foster a more equitable, sustainable urban future.

There are valid reasons to look at historic crises as moments for dramatic urban change. Nineteenth-century pandemics helped usher in developments in water and sewage systems. And there can be no doubt that, in the immediate future, the economic and demographic health of major cities will suffer enormously.