30 aprile 2020 | BLOG

City and Time


If we consider our habits and surroundings, will we be satisfied when, in the near future, we’ll look back? Were we able to utilise this collective stand-by to transform a global crisis into a chance to reevaluate our life and our city? Illnesses have always affected first and foremost our cities. Cholera affected the modern road network; the plague break-out in China in 1855 changed the design of every single thing: from exhaust pipes, to doors thresholds; tuberculosis was partly responsible for the aesthetics of modernism, with its light-flooded sanatoriums, white painted rooms, tiled bathrooms. Form has always served fear of infection, as well as function. Before the current pandemic, slow changes were already happening and would have taken place gradually; now they’ll be instantaneous.

Today we can clearly see a glimpse of a new transformation of vital spaces: we have the responsibility of turning a crisis into an opportunity, in order to create the unthinkable, in harmony with the rhythm of the Earth and its natural laws.

In regards to the city we should consider that up until now public spaces have always been designed with the purpose of promoting people proximity, encounters, exchanges, relations. This virus is threatening the traditional nature of urbanity, based on people mingling and coexisting. Going back to normality, before we find a vaccine and defeat the virus, will actually mean a “new normality”, characterised by a turnabout: in fact design, for the first time, will need to shape the new spatial and human distance. We have to be careful though, because, once we won’t be held hostage by fear anymore, we’ll be tempted to go back to our previous life, as our best and quickest option. In order to avoid resting on our laurels, we’ll have to be brave enough to finally adopt a contemporary approach to services planning, not only through design, but also with a combination of behavioral and communication sciences. As brave as Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1800, when they planned Central Park in New York, during a significant urban development and growth of the city, when undeveloped real estate was becoming valuable and rare: giving up building land was considered an absurdity, a huge economic loss. Thanks to that extraordinary gesture, urban planning was able to create, for the common good, an environmental clean up and renaturation, creating the park and green haven that we all know, an exemplary source of collective well-being for the citizens of the Big Apple.

Quoting the current proposal of Anne Hidalgo (Mayor of Paris): the “fifteen-minute city”, a metaphor that gives the city a more human dimension, with shorter distances, where many islands and mutually supportive communities will have their own rhythm, based on a new unit of measurement. All services need to be reached on foot or by bike in no more than 15 minutes, eradicating the need to use cars or other vehicles. We should be able to have all the necessities of our daily life within a 300-metre radius: schools, shops, services, public spaces, restaurants, green areas. Quality of life would improve, as well as the environment. We would have many advantages: abatement of fine particles and CO2, parking spaces repurposed as green areas. It’s a life and city model known as mixitè funzionale, that, during a crisis, could really make a difference.

We culturally believe that, when planning a city, it’s essential to draw a good plan with buildings, open spaces, urban green and services.

In reality we understand, especially today, that cities are more about time than space. And if we could bestow ourselves the gift of some quality time, we’d be on the right path for this coveted rebirth.

architetto Nina Russo