Pandemics and the Public Realm

April 7, 2020 | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT

Joni Mitchell’s refrain that you “don't know what you've got ‘til it’s gone” has never felt more applicable to our urban public spaces. The plazas where we congregate, the thronging walkways, the parks we think of as “the lungs of the city” – these are places that bring us into close proximity, and their necessary erasure from day-to-day life highlights the extent to which a pandemic is anti-urban. Yet, if we look to history, it’s safe to say cities aren’t going anywhere –  there is a long relationship between disease and urban planning, and a major reason why cities have proven so resilient is that planning and design are quick to adapt. 

In this inaugural episode of The Big Rethink, we look to the past, present, and future of the planning and design of public spaces. We’ll discuss how practitioners have previously responded to major outbreaks of disease; whether we need to rethink density as a guiding principle for smart growth; and how to design spaces which bolster community during periods of physical distancing – without the looming threat of surveillance.

Jeanne Gang
Founding Principal, Partner,
Studio Gang

Christopher Hawthorne
Chief Design Officer, City of Los Angeles

Richard Sennett
Professor, The Senseable Cities Lab, MIT Chair, Council on Urban Initiatives, United Nations Habitat Chair

Greg Lindsay
Director of Applied Research, NewCities