Physically Distant, Socially Connected
“The reason cities exist can be described as the magnetic pull of human relationships.
Throughout history, people have congregated in cities – for what they offer in terms of defense, commerce, education, and the arts.
The best places – and best cities – stir creativity and collaboration – those wonderful human qualities that, when brought together, allow the greatest flourishing of both individuals and society at large.”
It was not quite three weeks ago that I stood at the Young Professionals Summit and delivered these opening lines. Just three weeks, but what seems like ages ago – and worlds apart.
Yes, we have entered a new era more quickly and completely than any of us could have expected. Suddenly, the very idea of congregating – of density, closeness, togetherness – not only appears dangerous, but is in many cases even unlawful. For the sake of our immediate public health, it must be so.
And yet, pandemics are nothing new. From plagues to cholera to the 1918 Spanish Flu, this battle between the human impulse drawing us together and the viral forces pushing us apart has been waged most intensely over the landscape of the city. And in every case, the city has emerged victorious, stronger and better adapted.
The same will be true with our current challenge. In fact, we will defeat today’s threat by leveraging the very attributes that define our urban areas in better times: the concentration of creativity, diversity of people and ideas, civic institutions and neighborhood bonds. You see it happening already: in the clusters of medical research facilities; factories converting to make critical goods; and neighbors organizing to deliver groceries to those in need.
No, the virus will not overcome this magnetic pull of human relationships.
The city will rebound. Schools, shops, restaurants, theaters, and stadiums will re-open. And all of us – social creatures that we are – will flock to fill them.
It is said that we never truly appreciate something until it is lost. My hope is that we emerge from this test with a newfound love for the people, professions, and places that draw us together. For those wonderful human qualities that make life in the city so marvelous.
. . .
Scott Dobbe, AIA
Omaha by Design
image credit: The Great Empty: Photographs by The New York Times