Learning from lockdown: Don’t blame density for problems caused by poverty

Earle Arney, chief executive of Arney Fender Katsalidis

Source: Arney Fender Katsalidis

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As shapers of cities, the pandemic has shown us we must radically improve how design impacts on the poor and vulnerable. However, we must also guard against Dickensian reactions to density, which has been long blamed as a major cause of urban society’s ills. What can we learn from covid-19 and how do we separate fact from fiction in the centuries-old debate between density and its impact on urban populations?

Early last century modernism adopted a clear social purpose to fix the problems of urban pollution and overcrowding. Le Corbusier proposed “building up” with towers surrounded by green space. Even earlier, Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement was a reaction against Victorian cities, advocating “building out” and harnessing the bucolic beauty and sanctuary of the suburbs.

Today, the fear of proximity and concerns over urban health could easily continue the same circular narrative that density is inherently bad. It may also rekindle the idea of anti-urban utopias and the rebirth of urban sprawl.

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