The Density Dilemma
The current crisis has made a number of issues concerning cities and their morphology emerge as critical. Density is a good example: it’s something that has been valued and considered as a positive factor in the scientific and public debate about cities for years. But it rapidly became a critical issue as the pandemic was taking the stage, mainly due to health reasons, with proximity and crowds, etc. being seen as factors favouring the spread of the virus).
On the other hand, in my city Torino (Italy), during the lockdown, the densest areas – in terms of population, but also activities, services, shops, etc. – were also those in which the most vulnerable demographics had better access to help and support. Neighbourhood shops and local services provided food and other goods via door-to-door deliveries; social mutual support groups in apartment buildings and courtyards sprang up, and so on.
When it comes to density, then, we need to better figure out what we really mean by the term. Is density, per se, bad? Or is it rather the type of density we’re talking about? We need to open up the debate about this and undertake further research to find answers.
The Importance of Local, Just Urban Resilience
The current pandemic has taught us about the importance of informal networks, mutual help, and small-scale relationships – whether human, economic, social, or, indeed, environmental. During the lockdown, many of us began to “re-value” the possibilities offered by proximity. We not only rediscovered our neighbourhoods: we also discovered anew our neighbours. “Neighbourliness” came to the fore for the first time in decades.
More deprived areas, those lacking diversity and density in terms of services, shops, public spaces, and so on, suffered more during the lockdown, and are now also experiencing worse recovery conditions, compared to more socio-economically privileged zones. In other words, the pandemic taught us many things about the inequalities and fragilities of our cities – and the need for a more just society.