If you live in the city, and your window faces the street, take a moment and think twice about what you are seeing. It is not a dystopia, we have been in another life for a year. There are no people on the sidewalks, there is an army of masked loners. It is impossible to know if someone is smiling. Nobody supports the shopping cart and stops to chat for a while. Many citizens walk around trying to avoid other pedestrians. A guy smokes with the mask pulled up around his throat. Another rants with the mask as a bracelet as he opens a beer and sits on a bench on the back of the bench. There are no loose children. Nobody kisses. The street, the entire city, has become a place of passage. If this time we do not understand that we are passing through and that we do not know where we are going, it will be difficult for us to ever understand.
It begins to seem strange to us that in movies and series people do not wear masks. We no longer forget it when we leave home. The pandemic has turned our lives upside down. And not just the friendly return. The house has become an office – and a nursery, a school, a gym, a restaurant and, too often, a hospital. The house is both our refuge and our place of conflict. It has always been like this, but the uninterrupted coexistence with this multiplication of uses, this open 24 hours of domesticity, is modifying us and our scale of values. On the one hand, the virtual bet begins to exhaust: it is not enough to see the ice to feel cold. If television was the great companion of our fear in the first months of the pandemic, more and more people are betting on evasion over information. More books have been sold. We have stopped eating so much chocolate. We keep drinking too much. And we continue to discover hobbies. Or working hard. Much more than 12 hours a day. Think now of the plague that killed Titian and isolated Tintoretto in Venice. Locked up and no news. Without the possibility of looking out into the street for fear of contagion. Without being able to fish, sell or paint. Locked up without information. Covid-19 is turning us around, but we could give it a little more.
We are going to have to learn to think differently. Assume that opposing solutions can defend the same principles. We have spent decades criticizing the privatization of public land. Complaining because the terraces stole urban space from pedestrians and, during the pandemic, we have seen how the streets became terraces and, together, we tried to save that modus vivendi that allows us to chat with friends with the privacy of a street and that makes a business prosper in the city. We defend the opposite of what we defended and, in reality, we are fighting for the same thing: to maintain life on the streets.
Now nobody complains that the terraces have extended their presence on the sidewalk —or on the road — forming islands of spaced tables, but the more civic mayors have taken note and compensate for this invasion with the gradual disappearance of cars. It actually made little sense to sit down and have a beer and breathe in traffic fumes. That has been partially cleaned up. Paris is full of bike lanes that go even in the wrong direction on one-way streets. Anne Hidalgo has announced as a radical measure that her council will plant more trees in the city. The coronavirus also redefines radical urban design gestures.
Even the clergy seem to have taken notice. Amid hopeless reports that vaccines are more of a business than a service, the dean of Salisbury Cathedral offered his spacious facilities to separate citizens waiting their turn to be vaccinated. It thus demonstrated that a 13th century building, with a very strong identity, can have a very flexible use. Or what is the same: that anonymity is not necessary to embrace versatility, just what modernity had tried to teach us. With his audacity, Nicholas Papadopulos has made other deans also offer their facilities to speed up vaccination. We may be facing a new use much closer to the temples. Papadopulos is to be applauded for his architectural vision, responsiveness and generosity in organizing the punctures while cathedral organists David Halls and John Chanllenger perform every day for 10 hours. Gothic, organ and path of healing. Much less than that there are those who call it faith.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.