Spring 2020 will be one for the history books as Covid-19 takes hold across the globe. But we need to start the thinking about what we could be facing on the other side, and take advantage of the opportunities where they exist, says placemaking consultant BEN STEPHENSON.
The rolling news cycle is both excruciating and addictive, with small, incremental developments about the spread of coronavirus available at every page-refresh. It’s exhausting and unhealthy to fixate on the immediate problem without also looking beyond, to how we plan for the recovery.
This is the second and last part of the blog post on the epidemics behind urban planning, Part 1 examined the origins of urban planning in the 19th century, and how the fear of epidemics and the social unrest which would ensue from them, shaped cities in Western Europe and North America. You can read Part 1 following this link.
By the early twentieth century, housing conditions for people of the working classes had once again become appalling in most cities of the industrialized north. In 1902 the Dutch government decided to pass a housing act containing several provisions to address this crisis. Among others, city authorities were to develop building codes setting quality standards for construction, while cities with over 10,000 inhabitants were to develop an expansion plan indicating different housing zones. In terms of housing provision, the act gave municipalities the right to provide financial support to non-for-profit housing associations that worked in the field of public housing. Following the act, Amsterdam’s social-democratic government commissioned the architect Hendrik Berlage with the design for an expansion plan of Amsterdam’s South (Amsterdam Zuid) and provided subsidies to housing associations even into World War I, when private construction had come to a halt. The plan for Amsterdam Zuid is for a city where green permeates everything, the vast courtyards, the streets and squares. Housing and retail are largely separated and – underpinning the form – there is a political conviction that even lower classes deserve adequate, affordable housing and the role of the state is to provide it.
By Nikos Ntounis, Regine Sonderland Saga, Maria Loronõ-Leturiondo, Tom Hindmarch and Cathy Parker
passing day we are witnessing the unprecedented effects of COVID-19 on the
heart of our cities and towns, as the boundless pandemic is altering – and
potentially displacing – their social and economic role. In the UK, as in other
countries, the implementation of strict public health measures means that the
majority of service-based and non-food retail, hospitality and leisure business
premises remain closed to reduce social contact
(MHCLG, 2020). Footfall, a key metric in
the management of town centres and other commercial areas, has declined since
the lockdown was announced on the 23rd of March. Yesterday (31st of March)
footfall was down 81.4% compared to the same period last year (Springboard, 2020).
The relatively short period of disruption has already triggered the
first wave of store closures (Laura Ashley, BrightHouse, Carluccio’s), impacting
first on the most vulnerable businesses, whose position was fragile even before
the scale of the pandemic and the unprecedented public health response will
mean much more disturbance is yet to come.
Macroeconomic estimates suggest that the economic shock of COVID-19 will
be around 10% of global GDP. This is five times more than the credit and
liquidity problems that caused the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 (Milne,
2020). A massive number of bankruptcies will likely follow, which will put at
risk many jobs and have a significant impact on the attractiveness of many of
our towns and cities. Not only will their offer be reduced as less businesses
come back to our town centres, post-COVID-19 – but there may be less demand for
these businesses in the future. Prolonged lockdown can fundamentally change
consumer behaviour, as people become dependent on having products delivered to
their home. A survey by analyst Retail Economics of 2,000 consumers, quoted in
The Guardian, found that two-thirds of shoppers said they had switched to purchasing
products online that they have always previously purchased in-store (Inman,
2020). But the increasingly multifunctional town/city is not only at risk of
being obsolescent to shoppers. People used to exercise in their front room, may
not go back to the gym; employees who like working from home may not return to
the office; friends accustomed to socialising online may no longer pop down the
Last week I wrote a relatively damning piece praising
the initiatives to help stem the spread of COVID-19 that had been taken by the
central Greek government, and castigating the lack of leadership evident at a
local level across the three Municipalities responsible for the Ionian island
of Corfu. There have been a number of developments since then that have
highlighted not only how local leadership is vital at times of crisis to gather
support from the local population for any crisis response measures, but also
that grassroots initiatives must be developed in a coordinated manner.
20th March 2002
My last blog post on “The
need for local place leadership in times of crisis”
appeared on the IPM website and a range of social media on Corfu. This received
comments from local Corfiots such as: “The local council’s
response has been pitiful. There still seems to be a sense that this will all
blow over pretty soon (if only)”.
In 1862 in Berlin, the building
engineer James Hobrecht undertook the design of a ‘development plan for
Berlin’s surroundings,’ today known simply as the ‘Hobrecht Plan’. Hobrecht was
part of a broader Berlin movement, which, starting in the mid-nineteenth century
and following several epidemics of cholera, believed in the role of central planning
in sustaining and improving public health. Politicians such as medical doctor Rudolf
Virchow (1821–1902) considered contemporary sewerage, like that already seen in
parts of England, to be indispensable for the improvement of public health in
the capital. Whereas Hobrecht is mostly remembered for the 1862 Berlin
development plan, undoubtedly one of his major contributions is the
modernization of the sewerage system.
The ‘Hobrecht Plan’ provided the
outline for the development of a big part of Berlin and it is still visible
today in large areas of the inner city. It was the first complete street plan
for an expansion of the built-up area inside the municipal borders, with the
main goal to provide a street pattern for predominantly agricultural areas
around the existing city that were to be designated for construction, providing
housing for Berlin’s exploding population.
The Greek Central Government’s responses
to the Covid-19 pandemic.
19th March 2020
Just around one month on
from the first cases in Europe of people testing positive for the Covid-19
virus, Greece is now in lockdown as a preventative response to halt the spread
of the pandemic across the country that has to date infected 418 people and
claimed 6 lives. As of today, the government has made it an offence, punishable
with a 1000 Euro fine, for more than 10 people to gather in public spaces. The
Civil Protection Ministry has also advised that all non-emergency or non-vital
travel outside of the home should be limited to an absolute minimum. The
majority of retail establishments are already closed, and many other measures
have been put in place at a national level to slow the spread of the virus. We
have also heard today that of Sunday 22nd May all international
passenger flights in and out of Greece are to be cancelled.
18th March 2020
The Patriarch of the
Greek Orthodox Church bows to Government pressure and announced the closure of
all churches and the cessation of all church services. The Government had
already earlier overruled the church’s Holy Synod to enforce the of church
services of all denominations, including Greek Orthodox, until the end of this
month, despite the Orthodox church’s earlier claims about the potential
efficacy of faith and prayer against the virus.
Parts of many town and city centres have almost begun to
resemble docklands in the sense that shipping containers – sometimes singly,
sometimes stacked in different permutations – have appeared in urban space. By
transplanting these metal boxes into a different context their use has changed
– from shipping to, primarily, shopping.
This repurposing has led to a neologism – ‘cargotecture’ – to describe
the resulting architectural adaptations into shopping venues (and in many
cases, peoples’ homes). It is one manifestation of a broader concept of ‘container
urbanism’, where repurposed shipping containers become, among other things,
part of broader place-making initiatives.
“This standardisation enables a far greater flexibility, both in its original use, through incorporation into intermodal supply chains, and also through adaptive architectural re-use.”
Using shipping containers in this way is explained in part
by their flexibility and design. In one way, their design is standardised and
inflexible – Martin describes the shipping container very simply as a ‘box’ for
transporting stuff: “its size, shape and form were agreed upon, made standard,
and applied on a near universal basis”.
However, this standardisation – now widely captured in the baseline
‘twenty-foot equivalent’ (or TEU) shipping container – enables a far greater
flexibility, both in its original use, through incorporation into intermodal
supply chains (being equally part of road-based and sea-borne transportation), and
also through adaptive architectural re-use.
Indeed, a search through Google Images reveals the ingenuity and effort
expended in modifying these structures to create new spaces in which to live
Over the course of the last twenty years or so, footfall in our town centres has been falling. The decline started with the growth of out-of-town shopping and has been accelerated by the Internet. Not only does the Internet give us on-line shopping, it also offers a huge array of other services, like banking, holidays, and insurance – and, be default, many more reasons not to go to town. Finally, our politicians gave us austerity, which closed down libraries, youth centres and left even more empty buildings.
The ongoing project titled “Making and managing Ljubljana’s
urban squats: inclusive and participatory practices” (funded by the
BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants and supported by the Department for
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), investigates the way Ljubljana’s
squatted areas Metelkova and Tovarna ROG are used and managed by both the official
institutions and the communities of their respective users. It aims to appreciate
the power dynamics that emerge in their everyday running and to critically
evaluate the role that institutions play and the influence that they have
vis-à-vis these particular urban settings. In this post, we wish to offer a
brief elaboration on the spatial particularities surrounding ROG, namely its
recent recognition by the Slovenian legal system as a “quasi-public” place.