Will cities survive? The future of sustainable buildings and urbanism in the age of emergency.
For decades, the climate crisis has been demanding our action and commitment. Numerous efforts to reach an international consensus via climate summits, such as COP25, and Paris Agreement have not had any expected results yet. However, even though the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the sense of urgency, many talks about climate change were put on hold during 2020, when the new virus put the world on alert.
In no time it has become a global issue and provoked various reactions from political leaders around the world—from absolute denial to the harshest restrictions—adjusting and learning in the process by trial and error.
This process has not been easy as COVID-19 highlighted critical deficiencies in our built environment and urban design. Even though infections battered affluent areas too, the pandemic hit the hardest when the virus reached sectors with high rates of poverty. Dense neighborhoods and overcrowded buildings could facilitate the rapid spread of infections due to the difficulty of generating social distancing and the application of extensive quarantines.
Yet, various changes have been adopted rapidly. Hygiene protocols, wearing masks, social distancing and other strategies has become part of our ordinary life. On top of that, the use of public spaces, streets, parks, homes and all buildings had to be adjusted to control the spread of the virus transforming our habits and conception of them. Numerous studies showed great variations in the use of transportation during the pandemic too. But the questions are: are those changes here to stay? What does the future hold for our built environments?
Some even go as far as to question: Will cities survive? While many intellectuals and academics call for the end of cities (at least as we know them), some stakeholders urge to return to normality, or so-called status quo.
Is this the last opportunity to effectively build a healthy, livable and equitable city? It is clear that cities can no longer be conceived as before and it is time to question the way we inhabit and use them. What are the standards, mechanisms and criteria to define a sustainable city and building? Do they respond to the problems and deficiencies in the age of emergency? History shows us how cities reacted to and changed after health crises similar to COVID-19; this is the time to question everything around us and strive for environmentally sustainable and socially just cities.
The aim of PLEA 2022 is to be a relevant part of the discussion and bring about proposals to the developing and developed world. It is a great chance to talk about the changes that affected cities around the globe since the start of the pandemic and bring the scientific knowledge generated in this short time to the discussion.
Social inequality should also be a part of the debate as both health and climate emergencies may further increase the injustice and, at the same time, the inequality may make such crises worse. Latin America, as the most unequal region, and Chilean case might serve as a great example of such issues and could become a source of inspiration to find the definitive inflection point that a truly sustainable city requires.