The Industrial Revolution, the Paris Commune, the growing demand for housing for the urbanised working-class population, the bombardments and destruction caused by the Second World War, the impact of the spread of new technologies… great historical events have always brought about profound changes in the way we think about and live in cities. We are still experiencing such changes today, in a world that is facing the COVID-19 emergency and a digital technological revolution, which has an enormous impact on our lives.
Expensive and stressful commuting connections, catering and hospitality businesses brought to their knees by the emptying of city centres (e.g. Pret A Manger in London), difficulties in sustaining elevated costs of funds (for economic activities) and housing (for residents and students), rediscovery of small centres and qualitative recovery of the suburbs are just some of the issues that current events have brought to the fore.
Although cities are trying to pick themselves back up, many think that large urban centres will only become attractive again if policy makers are able to adapt to the change and implement innovative measures. Some big cities are already doing it. In Paris, for example, Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has recently been re-elected for a second term, has created 50 kilometres of new cycle paths, in addition to the 1,000 km of existing paths. She promises to transform the French capital (in the wake of the reflection by Sorbonne professor Carlos Montero) into the ‘quarter-hour city’, whereby all residents will be able to reach on foot or by bicycle the services they need to work, shop and entertain themselves. Less fragmented cities. Less specialised. Close-knit and local.
Thinking about where and how we will live in the future is not an easy exercise. Here, we begin to reflect on it.