How Cities Betrayed Their Inhabitants

Jacques Ferrier

This essay is an excerpt from Cornell Journal of Architecture 12: After edited by Val Warke, Hallie Black and Todd Petrie from Cornell AAP.

The COVID-19 pandemic questions the resilience of the metropolitan model. Appearing as the main source of contamination, dense cities have proved incapable of protecting their inhabitants. The piece invites us to rethink the model from the urban planning perspective that is concerned with the body and the scales of action of city dwellers.

The astonishing situation we currently face leads us to question our relation to the urban planet, as the intense and global flows of both goods and people that link metropolises together clearly hastened the spread of the epidemic. It is a subject in itself, just like the media coverage of the pandemic. Indeed, “live” impact on people’s reactions similarly directly impacts our urban world.[1]

Finally, to complete this overall picture, it is necessary to mention the lack of solidarity between cities. Whereas New York, Shanghai, Paris, London, and the like emblematized a single, united, and transnational club of interchangeable and connected urban elites just a few week ago, cities are now insolated and facing the crisis on their own.

But the responsibility of urban meta-organization in the diffusion and reception of the pandemic is not the topic of this essay. Cities’ inability to take care of their inhabitants shall be questioned and our global model rethought. This essay advocates a reinvented urban environment in resonance with the planet, through local-oriented mindset, micro-urbanism, and new dimensions for shared spaces.

Impasse d’Amsterdam, Grand Central Saint-Lazare, Paris, France, 2019. Photo by Myr Muratet.
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[1] Michel Lussault, Chronique Géovirale, March 21, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsaKg8bbgVQ.
[2] Martin Hirsch, press conference, March 20, 2020.
[3] François Jullien interviewed by Nicolas Truong, Le Monde, April 7, 2020.
[4] Charles Baudelaire, “Le Cygnet,” in Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857.
[5] Michel Serres, Le contrat naturel (Paris: François Bourin, 1990).
[6] See Sensual City’s publications on www.sensualcity.com.
[7] Michel de Certeau, L’Invention du quotidien (Paris: Gallimard, 1980).
[8] Adrien Tacquet, French Secretary of Children’s Protection, April 9, 2020.
[9] Data from NSPCC, April 30, 2020.