#27 - 1st May 2020

When one crisis reveals another

The current health crisis is rich in lessons for urban and housing experts, to whom the unprecedented experience of a complete lockdown has shown that, while housing is the preferred investment of the French, it is also and above all a place of shelter. In large conurbations, families with low incomes are crowding into small apartments; lockdown takes a special toll on them. In France, INSEE estimated that in 2010, "1.4 million homes were over-occupied. This concerns 5.1 million people, i.e. 9.5 per cent of the population in households of at least two people". It is thus urgent to reflect on the development of an affordable housing stock that matches demand and allows all to live in dignity. Some, better off on paper, are confined to comfortable but cramped apartments without balconies or gardens. For them, Catherine Sabbah writes, "a few days were enough to sweep away certain ideas, to comfort others: is the kitchen really useful when everyone is dining out or having their meals delivered? The answer is yes. With a window and doors? Yes again. Do you need extra space to isolate yourself if necessary? Yes again. Do we like living in micro apartments? No". Alongside the development of the affordable housing stock, it is thus necessary to work on the very nature of the housing supply and on the design of housing, in contrast with the standardization trend of recent decades. Finally, some people may reasonably wonder whether the proximity between their home and their workplace justifies sacrificing the quality of their housing; the recent spread of teleworking, justified by the sanitary crisis, has just led part of the working population to realize that such proximity may not be a necessity. This awareness was rapid and massive, judging by the sudden renewed interest of the French in houses with gardens and the countryside. Questioned by Le Monde, Séverine Amate, spokeswoman for the website Se Loger, reports that "real estate searches are usually divided in half between apartments and houses, but since the beginning of the lockdown, the rate of consultation of ads for houses for sale has exploded, and property searches in the provinces are increasing by 5% and even 17% in Brittany". While we cannot yet say what tomorrow will look like, it is clear that improving the quality of housing should already be a central concern. - Marie Baléo, Head of Studies and Publications

→ Related: our research program about affordable housing in European metropolises.


No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

TALES OF SMART CITIES – Exploring “The Cause of Wonder and Worry Over Digital Cities Post Virus”, the upcoming acceleration in the use of “tech-powered urban health solutions” makes no doubt. Collaborative platforms, data analytics, AI, IoT… All these tools have been widely used to tackle the pandemic. However, this quick development “will demand that ICT corporations, in conjuncture with urbanists, data scientists, developers and legislators revisit legislations and processes in order to ensure a socially and technologically inclusive and resilient concept”. – Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer

→ Related: our insights about smart cities.


PRESS RESET – “The End of the Golden Age of Restaurants”, “The All-Delivery EconomyThe Atlantic describes the extent to which America’s streetscapes, retail industry, and cities are likely to evolve in a post-pandemic world. After a period of monotony and homogeneity, cities “might just become interesting again”. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: our study project about urban retail and the return of the economy to city centers.


TAPE ART – Redesigning public spaces in post-lockdown cities all may well start with tape. Alongside traffic cones or spray paint, tape allows hard urban infrastructure to become more flexible and adapted to current needs. More flexibility in city planning seems crucial as “the virus demands the ability to improvise and strategize at the same time”. Imagining adequate governance arrangements will prove a great challenge for metropolises. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: Find out more about our work on public spaces.


A CONFINED WORLD – While most of the world's population is required to stay at home, no two lockdowns are alike. In Chennai, where crowds are both a cultural and economic need, how can the city deal with lockdown measures and social distancing? Pushpa Arabindoo, lecturer at the University College London, suggests a few leads. – Raphaël Languillon-Aussel, Senior Research Manager


TRUE COLORS In the United States, sidewalks and driveways are getting covered in colorful chalk drawings and hopeful messages. For designer Nikolas Bentel, chalk is “a toy that can help children engage with each other and with the architecture around them.” Far from being anecdotal, these drawings are a means of reinvesting public spaces, of sharing something and staying in touch despite the (physical) distance. – Sarah Cosatto

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