As cities emerge from coronavirus lockdowns, the way people use parks, stores, restaurants, transit, streets and homes is changing in ways both subtle and dramatic.
If one thing is certain, it's that our definition of normal has changed. After months in lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, cities are reopening â€” some with masks and social distance, others with still growing numbers of infection. Itâ€™s unclear what cities will look like in a year or more, but in many areas the landscape is already starting to shift.
Bloomberg CityLab has compiled and illustrated some of the most noteworthy changes that are already happening in communities around the world. From temporarily widened sidewalks to larger patios for socially distanced restaurants, these changes will transform the urban streetscapes of at least some communities. And not all of the shifts will be by intentional design.
With everybody spread further apart, the crux of many of these changes is space. Most people will need more of it, posing one of the great design challenges of the period for already built-up, congested cities. There will be a premium placed on repurposing outdoor space so that more gathering activities can take place in the open air. â€śWe will need to transform the link between indoors and outdoors, to reshape streets as the prolongation of indoor areas,â€ť says Carlos Moreno, professor of territorial entrepreneurship and innovation at IAE Sorbonne and adviser to the city of Paris.
To be sure, some communities may be defined by little change at all. If a vaccine becomes widely available, we may see much of the before environment return â€” but some cities are seizing this as an opportunity to invest in much needed infrastructure. And the recent U.S. protests against racism are fueling other policy changes across American cities.
Even in the most resistant places, there are some almost-ubiquitous changes that are built to be low-tech and easily removed: paint stripes on the sidewalk as a social distancing guideline, and hand sanitizer dispensers outside stores. â€śWe wonâ€™t need to create new infrastructures,â€ť says Moreno. Itâ€™s more about using existing ones more effectively.
Fewer Riders at Rush Hour
Before coronavirus, high-capacity transit systems made the basic math of dense urban populations work: It would not be possible to move through streets of cities like New York, London, Tokyo, and Mexico City if their millions of daily transit riders took to cars instead. Subways and buses were the lifeblood of those urban economies. Coronavirus now casts that role in a troubling light. Standing in crowded spaces for prolonged periods of time, whether on a subway platform or on a long commute by bus or train, could expose riders to the deadly disease. While few cases around the world have been linked to transit thus far â€” two separate studies of infection clusters in France and Austria failed to trace a single case to a shared commute â€” emerging survey results suggest many riders will try to opt for other modes.
During the pandemic, transit agencies around the world saw ridership decline by as much as 92% as many workers stayed home or found other ways to get to work; some set up signs and cordons instructing the remaining riders where to sit and stand in order to maintain social distancing. Several cities enacted mask requirements for passengers and did away with fares on buses so that passengers could reduce contact; others, like Boston, are hastening upgrades to contactless fare payment systems to do away with hand-to-hand transactions entirely. Cities like New York have also ordered rider capacity limits on transit vehicles, while others such as Milan are hoping to stagger commuters over the course of the day. It remains to be seen how these protocols will be enforced.
Even less certain is when, or whether, transit ridership is likely to return to its previous levels. With white-collar commuters potentially continuing to work from home or picking up bikes or car keys instead, the people riding transit for the foreseeable future are likely to be poorer than the average urban resident. They could be in for a bumpy ride with service cuts and potentially more crowding if agencies canâ€™t overcome budget shortfalls from gutted ridership. â€śIf you donâ€™t have that big load of people moving at the same time, transit becomes really expensive and not a very effective way to move people,â€ť said Brian Taylor, a professor at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles