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The COVID-19 virus crisis has changed the world, and it is already rapidly shaping cities with the potential for changing everything from how people live, move and work. The impact of this coronavirus on traditional built environments is yet to be determined. But we already know that some traditional environments in a few areas around the world seem to have escaped or survived the negative impacts or have not suffered the fate of the big cities in the Developed World. Indeed, if one were to superimpose a map of the world based on infections with the virus over a map of the world which shows urban and rural traditional setting of lower density and lover incomes, this relationship (whether a correlation or a causality) becomes much clearer.  

IASTE has always viewed tradition not as the static legacy of the past, but rather as a dynamic project for the reinterpretation of the past in light of the needs of the present. It becomes incumbent upon us as IASTE scholars to articulate a position vis-à-vis the current condition. Some scholars in related fields have been focusing their efforts on understanding the changes that the virus is bringing to our way of life and our built environment including understanding who entire communities dealt with the lock down or sheltering in place; the impact of public activities and communal gatherings being banned or relocated; configuring the newfound demand for own spaces and alternative living arrangement; and designing newly needed  semi-public spaces and frontage deliveries to provide for limited interactions and spatial distancing.  

The practice of spatially mapping and visualizing viruses and their spread became common as early as the 1600s.  It was later institutionalized in the early 20th century after the Cholera outbreak in London.  John Snow’s famous mid 19th century map which overlaid the location of the casualties with the position of water pumps in the city explained the rise and the spread of a disease. Since then we have learned that community responses in times of crises reveal the multi-layered politics of space. Fear and the impulse to flee, as some scholars have discovered do not deviate from the traditional logics of urbanisms but rather often reveal deeply rooted systems of inequality within the urban condition that we need to study. 

The global response to the pandemic was ‘social distancing’ and ‘stay home,’ and within days many governments forced an Orwellian response that was authoritative, firm, and effective. Infrastructures buckled under the rapid change in daily routines and the increased demand on digital connectivity. With cities on standstill the home transformed, taking on multiple roles to fulfill new purpose. Alternative systems emerged facilitated by cloud environments and internet infrastructures; virtual workspace, e-learning, e-health, e-shopping, virtual meetings, tutorials and coffee mornings became standing diary items. 

Yet amid the fear and chaos, many of our cities became greener, quieter, and cleaner. This pandemic has brought new waves of change in regulations, design, planning, and how we connect and communicate. Multiple agendas met in the discussion of the fallout; ‘healthy cities,’ ‘smart homes’, and ‘carbon-neutral urban centers’ contrast with worrying signs of surveillance, policing, contagion, and anomie. Patterns are emerging and changes in our life and work are underway. The direction of traffic and even the final destination are yet to be clear. 

Our present situation leaves us with a number of key questions on the future of cities and urban communities in light of those experiences and borne-digital operational models that have become mainstream overnight. At IASTE, we ask four key scholars and practitioners to answer a series of questions in an attempt to open the debate and further the discourse on the post-2020 pandemic city. Our speakers and panelists will debate their response to the following questions, from their different disciplinary experiences: 

  1. What modes of disruptive traditions that occurred during the pandemic might shape new urban patterns and should we embrace this change? 
  2. How will traffic flows shift? Will the flow of people towards urban centers for work, shopping, and entertainment be reversed towards more rural, isolated, and protected communities?  
  3. How will practices such as architecture and design adjust to new norms of urban tradition? Will that influence our perception of density and our decision of where we live?
  4. How will we engage with heritage, history, and culture in more mobile, spatially disconnected, and virtual environments?
  5. How much will virtual environments (workspace, education, culture, and tourism) contribute to more intelligent cities? Greener cities? 

Saturday, September 5th 2020
7:00 – 9:30 am Pacific Standred Time

IASTE 2020 Virtual Event is open to public, IASTE members and IASTE 2021 biennial conference participants to register for FREE by September 4th 2020
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