Monday, 27 april 2020 | Redacción CEU
Silence, clear streets and parked cars do not intimidate wild animals. Nowadays, wild boars, bears, magpies, blackbirds, gulls, deer and wild goats are roaming our cities and suburbs. The lack of human presence on the roads in the main urban areas is making these animals reclaim, albeit temporarily, a territory that human beings believed fully conquered. Paradoxically, animals have become the only residents who can go for a walk in these places. This is just a sign of how much cities can change due to our behavior. The COVID-19 crisis might prove to be a great turning point in the design of the cities of the future. What will cities look like after this period of lockdown?
The future is always uncertain, but it is even more so when we have just witnessed how our lives have done a U-turn overnight. What to think about the future when we are trapped in what appears to be a dystopia from a sci-fi movie. The only thing that seems clear today is that this pandemic will leave an indelible mark on our society. Therefore, the consequences of this crisis will be reflected in different fields such as our culture, politics and economy, as well as in other disciplines such as urban design or the architecture of our cities.
We find the first indicators of change in our cities in the reinvention of restaurants. The owners of some of these businesses are placing methacrylate partitions in the tables in the hope that their customers continue visiting these places while complying with social distancing measures. This is just one example of the projects that are being planned in the short term, but could this pandemic make us change the concept of the city in a comprehensive way?
The metamorphosis of cities
There is not a crystal ball that really works, so we cannot say for sure what the future city will finally look like. However, we can try to approach it through the analysis of new ideas and projects that arise as a consequence of this situation.
One aspect that many experts seem to agree on is that cities will be more focused on alternative mobility, therefore, less focused on cars. Cities may even become less and less focused on the use of traditional means of public transport too. In fact, there are already proposals like these on the table. One of them is the proposal of Milan, which is also one of the worst-affected cities by this virus. Last week, the city announced a plan to reduce traffic and open 35 new kilometers destined for pedestrians and bikes. The idea is to avoid the concentration of a large number of people in urban transport and, at the same time, avoid environmental problems derived from traffic. There is ongoing research to find out whether there may be a correlation between pollution and mortality, however, more information is still needed.
New Zealand is also responding similarly to this situation. Its idea consists in painting lanes with bright colors to indicate the priority of pedestrians and cyclists and to place planters and blocks to reduce the speed of vehicles. In cities like Budapest, they are also creating bike lanes, and, in Berlin, they are doing so and widening old lanes in order to offer citizens greater space. All these plans are inspired by the temporary social distancing measures that we must follow in order to contain the spread of this virus, but these measures could also have an impact on the configuration of cities in the long term.