๐Ÿ“‘ How Cities Come Back From Disaster

Bookmarked How Cities Come Back From Disaster (The Atlantic)

One day, when COVID-19 is a distant memory, a historian of urban catastrophe might observe, in reviewing the record, that human beings looked up, to the sky, after a fire; looked down, into the earth, after a blizzard; and at last looked around, at one another, after a plague.

Derek Thompson discusses the four events and the innovations in city design that they made possible. These include the burning of Manhatten in 1835 that led to the storage of fresh water and firefighting, the cholera epidemic in 1832 that led to improvements in the drainage systems, the burning of Chicago in 1871 that led to the rise of the skyscraper and the 1888 snowstorm in New York that led to placing the wires and trains underground. The question this all raises is what this means for New York and America now?

The most important changes following past catastrophes went beyond the catastrophe itself. They accounted fully for the problems that had been revealed, and conceived of solutions broadly. New York did not react to the blizzard of 1888 by stockpiling snow shovels. It created an entire infrastructure of subterranean power and transit that made the city cleaner, more equitable, and more efficient.

The response to COVID-19 could be similarly far-reaching. The greatest lesson of the outbreak may be that modern cities are inadequately designed to keep us safe, not only from coronaviruses, but from other forms of infectious disease and from environmental conditions, such as pollution (which contributes to illness) and overcrowding (which contributes to the spread of illness). What if we designed a city with a greater awareness of all threats to our health?

Some of the improvements that Thompson puts forward include universal health care, lower pollution and rethinking building design that focuses on ventilation. Whether it be a move back to the suburbs or innovating the city space, it would seem like nothing will be the same.

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