COVID and Urbanism

Morning prayers in a Jerusalem park, May 2020. (courtesy)

In Israel, we are slowly becoming accustomed to the sight of masked passersby, of fully grown men praying between slides and swings, of security guards checking temperature instead of bags. As children return to school, and malls reopen, these seem to be almost superficial changes. However, the long term effects of COVID-19 on city life run much, much deeper. The past couple of weeks of living, working, eating and breathing home life have resulted in a tremendous shift in mentality for many. It is safe to predict that a reduction in the value of city living will result in a migration to the more peripheral and suburban parts of the country.

Not only do families now value private outdoor space more than ever, but the success of working from home in many fields means that proximity to work is of far less importance. From now on, it will be more accepted to work from home, at least on a part-time basis, making longer commutes more manageable. As these arrangements become more permanent, a designated workspace in the home will be a given, adding importance to the spaciousness of residences. And honestly, being crammed on an overcrowded train was never anyone’s first choice. Now it isn’t their second either. Or third.

Activities that were once commonplace, going out to eat, aimlessly wandering in the mall, will be reserved for special occasions. Outings that were once rare, nature walks and barbecues, will become things of habit. Many services have also successfully translated to a remote delivery. Communication with medical professionals is more convenient than ever. Students of high school age and up anywhere can access and learn from the best teachers. Many consulting practices now have international reach. These changes create opportunity and equality in places where it was previously absent.

Avoiding the restrictive costs of city dwelling will also create opportunities for extended families to live together. The differing needs and costs that once separated generations now have more viable solutions. Keeping family close is the new lifestyle trend.

Of course, these changes will come at a price. The efficiencies of urbanism are long lauded and much respected. When we live on top of each other, the same infrastructure, hospitals, schools, can serve more people. When people spread so must their resources. However, when people do not, disease does, and therefore the migration away from city life will be a natural result of COVID-19.

About the Author
Liba grew up in New York, thinking of Jerusalem as a far-off place to visit in prayer. Today, she practices architecture in what she now knows is a very real, contemporary city, with all the potential in the world. Liba encourages discussion about architecture in Jerusalem @Building.Jerusalem on Instagram.
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