Epidiemology and urban planning: the views of Sascha Roesler on the NZZ

What is the relationship between epidiemology and urban planning? Sascha Roesler, assistant professor at the USI Academy of Achitecture (Institute for the History and Theory of Art and Architecture, ISA), explores the subject in a recently published article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and with a short video, showing how these two concepts have a common history and future.

The problem of hygiene has influenced our understanding of living throughout history, right up to our current concept of a building. "Modern urban planning was based primarily on the need to regulate the distance between people, objects and buildings. In this regard, it provided a real theory of social distance, which views the interior and the exterior as strictly separate areas, defining what to keep inside the building and what to leave out. This classification included both people and viruses or heat," Roesler explains in the article.

If we consider pre-industrial cities, these were faced with the spread of infectious diseases such as plague, cholera, tuberculosis, malaria. "Only in the second half of the nineteenth century, in a scientific reading, was it possible to understand the link between urban planning, hygiene and epidemiology. For example, high outdoor temperatures, combined with poor hygienic conditions in cities, have been increasingly recognised as the cause of various types of diseases in the nineteenth century". The link between drinking water quality and the sewage system, for example, has been a driving force for medical innovation and urban development. Modern architecture and urban planning have also contributed decisively to the development of an image of a "hygienic" Europe in the first half of the 20th century, with the reduction in the density of occupancy of living space, the definition of distances between buildings, etc.

If on the one hand, with the spread of the coronavirus, architecture and urban planning once again feel the need to address the problem of hygiene in European cities, on the other hand the state of emergency imposed by governments is leading to see cities as an experimental space of experience, reinforced by a new type of involvement of civil society, putting the concepts of Living Lab and Smart City at the forefront. According to Roesler, the ongoing discussions around these two concepts, in fact, indicate that the coronavirus pandemic will radically change the culture of urban planning in Europe.

With Living Labs "the intention is to combine scientific discoveries with their direct application in real life situations through appropriate feedback; cities are an ideal testing ground for this. The emerging forms of e-learning and home office are currently changing our understanding of labour and willingness to travel for it, while new forms of daily solidarity are changing our relationship with the neighbourhood, with the community," explains Roesler.

In addition, city-states such as Singapore use the Smart City planning concept to fully connect the city’s space with data-driven information, for example by examining energy transport flows or tracking the movements of infected city dwellers, touching on sensitive personal rights issues. "It seems that the time has come for a serious debate in Europe on the social legitimacy of smart city concepts," concludes Roesler.

The full article, in Geman, is available at  www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/epidemiologie-und-stadtplanung-haben-eine-gemeinsame-geschichte-und-auch-zukunft-ld.1549809