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Cities That Heal: How The Coronavirus Pandemic Could Change Urban Design

Times Square stands mostly empty as  as much of the city is void of cars and pedestrians over fears of spreading the coronavirus on March 22, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Times Square stands mostly empty as as much of the city is void of cars and pedestrians over fears of spreading the coronavirus on March 22, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

This program originally aired on April 28, 2020.

In the age of coronavirus, can we design cities that heal? We talk with an architect and urban planner about how better urban design could improve human health.


Michael Murphy, founding principal and executive director of MASS Design Group, an architecture and design. (@MASSDesignLab)

Ken Greenberg, principal of Greenberg Consultants. Former director of urban design and architecture for the city of Toronto. (@KGreenbergTO)

From The Reading List

World Bank Blogs: “A functional city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic” — “Cities are currently being tested to the extreme with the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). Simultaneously a health crisis, social crisis, and economic crisis, COVID-19 is laying bare how well cities are planned and managed. Its impact is showing the extent to which each city is able to function – or not – especially during times of crisis.”

Boston Globe: “The role of architecture in fighting a pandemic” — “When an epidemic of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis emerged in Tugela Ferry, South Africa, in 2006, it was a building that deserved some of the blame.”

Architectural Record: “Pandemic Shifts Profession’s Focus to Health Care” — “Over the last several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended almost every aspect of day-to-day life, infecting millions of people across the globe, hundreds of thousands of whom have died. Many in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry have turned their focus to the rapid delivery of health-care facilities, to treat the ill and attempt to stave off the pandemic’s spread, and much of that work has been concentrated in coronavirus hot spots like New York.”

Architect Magazine: “MASS in Context” — “Ask anyone who works at MASS Design Group about how they joined the Boston- and Kigali, Rwanda–based nonprofit design firm, and you’ll hear tales of discontent with the architectural establishment and searching for deeper purpose in design. Take junior associate Bethel Abate, who, sitting in MASS’s board room overlooking Boston Common, offers a politely devastating takedown of American architectural education.”

Ken Greenberg Diary: “Covid-19 Reflections” — “In this moment of crisis we are witnessing remarkable examples of turning on a dime, of coming together to make the impossible possible, allowing ourselves to try new things and experiment. Can we capitalize on that momentum when the peak passes and we focus on renewal of our cities?”

Daily Commercial News: “Public health experts should be at the urban design table: Consultant” — “Dense cities are not Petri dishes that spread the coronavirus, but the pandemic is an opportunity to rethink city design and planning models to better prepare for future crises.”

Los Angeles Times: “Commentary: Past pandemics changed the design of cities. Six ways COVID-19 could do the same” — “Although pandemics have long been a tragic scourge on our cities, they’ve also forced architecture and city planning to evolve. The bubonic plague, which wiped out at least a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century, helped to inspire the radical urban improvements of the Renaissance. Cities cleared squalid and cramped living quarters, expanded their borders, developed early quarantine facilities, opened larger and less cluttered public spaces and deployed professionals with specialized expertise, from surveyors to architects.”

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