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Enough squeeze: the revolution in the daily life of cities that reopen

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Enough squeeze: the revolution in the daily life of cities that reopen

Around 1486, when Europe was punished by recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague, Leonardo Da Vinci outlined the design of a city on the banks of the Ticino River in northern Italy, with wide streets, bathed in natural light and monitoring the hydrological cycle to contain floods. Too advanced for the Renaissance era, like many of his ideas, the proposal would take on a new form even in modern times, when finally the rulers realized that only clean and healthy cities would break the sequence of deadly epidemics. Major renovations in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in the wide layout of Parisian avenues, which inspired the mayor of Rio de Janeiro Pereira Passos and the sanitarian Oswaldo Cruz to replicate the model in Rio de Janeiro. These are examples of how the history of cities is intertwined with that of epidemics, and it will be no different with Covid-19, the new scourge of humanity.

Although agglomerations are, once again, the villains of the spread of the new coronavirus, and because of that, a third of the planetary population has been forced to isolate themselves at home, after the outbreak passes the plant that agglutinates many buildings glued together. (and overflowing with people) should continue to prevail in the metropolises, for practical reasons. “The gathering optimizes public spending, facilitates commuting and amplifies interactions. It is even more sustainable, as it leverages the use of natural resources ”, explains Leandro Medrano, professor of architectural history at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo (USP). "But the form of densification will change, with new mechanisms of distancing," he predicts. The expectation of urban planners is that some weapons against the virus have come to stay, among them the only entrance and exit doors in public places, the acrylic partitions in shops, the most separate tables in restaurants and, in general, stricter cleaning protocols.

In transportation, the loss of space in cars and care to avoid overcrowding in the subways and buses are changes with a definite tone, and several projects are underway to encourage the population to walk and cycle. Milan, in northern Italy, the first major city in the West to close under the weight of contagion, will transform 35 kilometers of streets into exclusive lanes for cyclists and pedestrians. In addition to containing agglomerations, the Open Streets project also hopes to protect the environment – 80% of deaths by Covid-19 occur in the most polluted regions of the world. Cyclists are already throwing the party in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia – a success story in Latin America in combating the pandemic -, where the network of more than 35 kilometers of bike lanes started to operate every day of the week, instead of just on Sundays, and it will remain so.

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Priority to cycling is in the plans, in full swing, of 134 cities in Germany, including the capital, Berlin. In historic Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's main city, in the eastern United States, the population has filed a petition in favor of creating more free spaces for pedestrians and cyclists to circulate, spurred by a 150% increase in the use of bicycles in recent months. Nearby, in New York, the initial epicenter of the American epidemic and until recently a staunch supporter of the primacy of automobiles, a project to expand 160 kilometers of cycle paths takes shape. In Vienna, known for the beautiful parks where the relaxation of the quarantine allows walking, the prestigious Studio Precht presented the city with an unprecedented project, Parc De La Distance (in French, to honor Versailles), made to be enjoyed alone, or at most two by two. These are corridors bounded by labyrinth-style hedges (seen from the top, the park resembles a fingerprint) that impose almost 1 meter of distance between the people who circulate through them. In Paris, the initiative City 15 Minutes, by Mayor Anne Hidalgo, aims to motivate Parisians to walk their daily routes through streets closed to cars and eliminate the use of motor vehicles on routes of up to 5 kilometers.

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Social detachment in the pandemic also accelerated processes that were already underway, such as working in the home office system. More professionals will definitely adopt it – Twitter has already warned that it will release permanent remote work for all employees who so prefer. With this, the specialists anticipate less space for offices and, in their place, the emergence of new neighborhoods with cafes that offer internet, coworking places, restaurants and parks. Likewise, the option for online shopping should solidify and shrink the areas of commerce. “Retail centers will become residential areas. And when the crisis is over, a boom of bars and restaurants is expected. One lesson that Covid-19 leaves us with is that these places are essential for social interaction, ”says William Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research in Texas.

In homes, ventilation should gain prominence – something similar to the way that ascetic sanatoriums for tuberculosis treatment in 19th century Europe inspired modernist architecture, with white walls and lots of glass to brighten up environments. “Health and well-being were items used to differentiate housing projects. Now they will be essential ”, says Joanna Frank, president of the American company Fitwel, an international reference in the certification of healthy buildings. The post-pandemic home, she says, will have skylights, large windows, terraces, balconies and patios for exercise and meditation. In Brazil, where almost 15 million people live in precarious housing, according to the Data Favela Institute, the distance between well-ventilated houses and apartments and the reality is immense, but the drama of Covid-19 opens up the urgency of policies that end the precarious human gatherings. "Resilient cities are those with the capacity to plan and mitigate disasters," explains Steven Pedigo, director of the Urban Lab research lab Urban University at the University of Texas. In other words: new pandemics will come and this is the chance to prepare for them.

Published in VEJA of May 27, 2020, edition nº 2688

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