Have you ever wondered what our cities might look like in a post-pandemic world? I am Silvia Dragomir, architect and urban planner, with a special focus on resilient cities. At DIS I teach sustainable urban development and transportation courses.
Cities for people. Kultorvet during a hot summer day, before the isolation mode
Cities for people – an ideal of the past?
While in Copenhagen, one cannot go without noticing the charm of small-scale streets – some pedestrian only, others with limited access for cars, and most crossed by bicyclists in all directions – a layout that boosts economic activity, human interaction and a lively, hyggelig city center atmosphere. Its citizens have been at the focus of urban planning throughout recent history, and its model inspires so many other cities around the world.
Today, the city looks a little different. With most people worldwide in isolation mode, the situation in Copenhagen is no different. Here and there comes a passerby, shops, cafes and cultural places are closed, and it seems that the very core of its urban planning strategy is missing. So, one may wonder: what would the city look like in a post-pandemic world? Are public spaces that foster community, with open and inviting plinths, small cozy cafes, and crammed restaurants that fill the public realm when the weather is nice, a thing of the past? Are cities for people a concept to leave behind?
Rådhusplads, Vestergade and the metro during the isolation mode
Something must change
While the crisis continues, it becomes more and more evident that we need to improve on so many levels! Our homes and cities are not entirely designed and planned to be healthy, self-sufficient, resilient, or sustainable. The current crisis is an opportunity to ponder on the things that really matter. What is crucial for surviving? Air, water, food. How will we choose to live? And how will our cities provide for us?
We already see a big drop in emissions and have come to the realization that those basic needs must be fulfilled locally, rather than globally. This builds even further the argument for healthier cities, smart grids, for local farming, for quality education, and health care systems, for more quality and less quantity, for sustainable businesses rather focused on quality services, and a more efficient use of resources altogether.
The future is green: a building like a tree, a city like a forest
How do we go about this? It has never been more imperative that we rethink and redesign our cities for healthy citizens. That we work with nature and not against it. Imagine this (while we still have the time): your city as a network of biodiversity corridors, supporting life, and providing food. Neighborhood units equipped with all the amenities and services for daily needs – all within walking and biking distance – and connected on a greater scale through public transportation. The car might still be present, nevertheless, as a shared service rather than an individual object and powered by renewable energy sources.
A city like a forest… ØsterGRO. Visit: ourhealthycities.com
Human scale public spaces, buildings and cities are crucial for a healthy and resilient future. Nevertheless, they must be green and productive urban environments – managing water from cloudbursts, creating microclimates during hot summer days, producing energy and food, and communicate with each other through smart city networks for an effective use of resources. It may be a while until we all regain the confidence to cram against each other at a hyggelig café, but let’s remember that the cities we build today are here to last for centuries. We can always learn from the past and be attentive of the present to improve the future.
Silvia Dragomir is an architect and advocate of Cities for People, with an MSc in Sustainable Urban Planning from Aalborg University and an MSc in Architecture from Bucharest and Bordeaux. Her professional profile includes a collaboration with KANT architects, owner of an architecture studio with focus on sustainability, climate change adaptation, and mitigation. Her passion is sharing knowledge and creating better living environments. Silvia has been with DIS since 2015.
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