Post Pandemic Living
Cities are not only constructions made out of bricks, concrete and wood, but also complex sign systems that provide information about living conditions and the zeitgeist.
The visionaries of modernity were – among other matters – concerned with solving issues of hygiene in ever growing cities. The density of European inner cities was thus dissolved in favour of light an air, and traditional building materials like bricks and wood were replaced by easily cleaned surfaces like steel and glass, which became the dominant building culture.
The introduction of light, air and open space into the heart of European cities held the promise of a versatile and accessible public space, but in reality city-machines favouring cars and traffic instead developed in many places. Urban life had to be restructured with the clear functional separation of living, working, leisure and transport prescribed by central planning. Everyday life shaped by mobility and logistics became the new standard, and financial prosperity made it possible for broad sections of society to have a private exercise program, with a fitness bike or sometimes even a swimming pool in house, as well as space private parties in the comfort of your home. In addition to modern life’s joy and lightness of being, loneliness and isolation also found its way into our cities, and alienation from public space itself gradually increased.
One of the things city life offers is diversity and the possibility of engaging in different spheres, allowing for the opportunity of collective action when needed. Community action, the in the form of sharing and organising projects and places in the city are becoming increasingly important as a resistance to relentless privatization and the resulting shortage of public spaces. Space-optimized living concepts at ever increasing prices mean that private space now has to be expanded to include communal spaces: we work in the co-working space, exercise in the gym and in the park, share the study rooms in the public library with many others and practice the piano in the common room.
The onslaught of the global pandemic have further changed the way we use and share places and spaces: The co-working space has been exchanged for the home office, fitness apps regulate individual exercise programs in living rooms, and digital downloads promise immediate reading fun on your e-readers in your bedroom. Indeed, the pandemic have raised the question of how efficient communal ways of living and working can be.
The problems of modernity have far from disappeared, but still shape our co-existence cities. In the search for post-pandemic forms of living and working, these problems return with a vengeance – the isolation experienced during a pandemic not only increases loneliness, but also puts further pressure on energy consumption due to the a heightened individual use of spaces, which then promotes the enclosure of increasingly scarce land and an expanded urban sprawl. In turn, urban sprawl increases the need for private transportation and thus energy consumption and emissions.
Perhaps we will be able to develop our cities communally in the future? And in ways that do not follow a frenzied and instant market-driven logic as the solution to all social change and problems? Could we not, rather, produce spaces and places through flexibility and participation, based on the realization that the future consists of a large number of unknown events, and thus try to make urban livable and pleasurable for most of us, most of the time?.
Susanne Priebs/Christoph Schmidt