Until recently, many experts prophesied an urban future. The pandemic has made that future far less clear. Coronavirus has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of urban residents. Wealthy second-homeowners and migrant labourers alike have fled to the countryside. In US cities, meanwhile, the largest anti-racist uprisings in a generation have been met by shocking levels of official violence and cruelty. These twin emergencies – novel coronavirus and racist state violence – have highlighted the brutality of contemporary urban inequality.
Cities are once again being cast as threats to public health and social order. Some commentators believe there will be a mass exodus from cities, a trend accelerated by home working, and that large, dense cities are no longer viable. Other urbanists have argued that city living can be redeemed by small changes to existing cityscapes, such as pedestrianising streets, altering zoning codes or rolling out new “smart city” technologies.