Design, density, disparity
The relationship between cities and health has become the focus of COVID-19, urban dwellers realize in surprise how our built environment plays a significant role in affecting our health and well-being. Once again, debates arise regarding the pros and cons of the high density of urban cores, reflected perhaps by cars heading back to second homes in suburbs in Europe and North America. Yet on the other side in the Global South and emerging countries, hyper-dense informal settlements simply mean that it's impossible to practice social distancing when large families share a roof and basic livelihood becomes a more prominent issue. Health disparity is heightened if not exacerbated by the lasting pandemic, images of essential workers commuting to work without adequate hygiene supplies spread across the media. COVID provides a rare window for local governments, institutions, architects and urban designers to question the way we have been designing and managing our cities, and fast-track much-needed initiatives to make our cities safe and resilient for a sustainable urban future.
The pandemic hits the creative sector hard. With nation-wide lock downs, performing venues and cultural sites are mostly shut, exhibitions and events are largely cancelled, many artists, performers, musicians are left with the reality of no jobs for months. Yet difficulty times unleash creativity and opportunities. Virtual orchestra performances, online museums, street murals with public health messages, radio shows, stenciling, digital art, pop-up installations, or even teddy bear and rainbows at the windows and balcony choirs, everyday creativity emerges amidst crisis and despair. Examples across the globe show us the healing power of art, something we have taken for granted and overlooked on our 'normal days'.
We yearn for connections. As we unwillingly confined ourselves to the four walls of our apartment, the only way to connect with our loved ones and to work, is to meet them in the world wide web. Over the course of six months, many have become guru in the online world, switching from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter to Zoom to Google Meet to Slack to Neighbourly and more. The learning curve is steep but we seem to have managed to maintain our connections, or even 'meet up' with friends and families that you perhaps did not expect to ever meet again. We have perhaps connected with neighbours that live on the same block for years but never get to say hi, or managed to get groceries together for an elder next door. Our public space seems to have relocated to the digital realm, so do the challenges. How do we create an inclusive and accessible digital public space that nurtures resilient communities?
innovative approaches and practices
aS PUBLIC SPACE
When campus cannot serve as classrooms, and lectures moved online, how should we define schools and education in this post-pandemic era? As fall semester starts, many students worldwide are still taking online lessons, even more struggle to catch up with school work due to digital divide, same goes to our educators who are trying to provide the same quality interactive teaching over thousands of kilometres. The best of school - bumping into classmates and teachers for what turns out to be the most thought-provoking chat - is, however, still nowhere to be found. Classes that require fieldwork, site visits, interviews, observations are struggling to provide similar experiences. Empty campus and school grounds oddly stand out when many cities are in desperate need of quality open space. As educators, what's next?