Coronavirus will reshape our cities – we just don’t know how yet
The development of cities has been by affected by disease for centuries, so what legacy will Covid-19 leave on urban life?
Few residents of the world’s great metropolises would have thought much about plagues before this year. Outside China and east Asia – made vigilant by swine flu and Sars – the trauma of pandemics such as Spanish flu or typhoid has largely faded from popular memory. But our cities remember.
An outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793 prompted administrators to take over the task of cleaning streets, clearing gutters and collecting rubbish. It worked, and governments across the US adopted the responsibility over the next decades. A misconception that the odour emanating from wastewater was responsible for diseases such as cholera prompted one of the world’s first modern underground sewer systems in London, and the development of wider, straighter and paved roads – which helped prevent water from stagnating.