The CITY in crisis in times of pandemic
In 2006, the architect Manuel Graça Dias published a compilation of texts written over 2 years for the Portuguese weekly newspaper Expresso, which he entitled Manual das Cidades (1). Like no other, he was a man of the CITY. With pride, joy and immense pleasure of living in The CITY. All his theoretical work and buildings are generous invitations for us to like cities, as much as he did. About 14 years after the publication, within the crisis we are going through worldwide, the questions and reflections of Manuel Graça Dias are more than welcome and absolutely relevant. It begins as follows: Why do we like cities? What do we like about cities? Why do cities attract us? "First of all, it is clear that the CITY is a collective territory, conformed to allow life in common. Many different people sharing, dividing, using a huge structure, built together (...) a project of collective life". It just so happens, that this kind of public, collective territory, full of unpredictability is threatening (us) in times of pandemic. We are told that everything we like about cities, is what we should fear and avoid. The CITY is in crisis and all the theories and urban reforms seem now obsolete to us. While the CITY is locked down, activities are accessible online, from home. The cultural offer on the Internet proliferates, it has never been possible before to watch online and for free the films on exhibition, the theatres that are on stage, the ongoing exhibitions in galleries and museums, all kinds of video conferences, etc... Dozens of invitations for online events drop into my mailbox daily, but I have not been tempted to accept any of them. A trip to the cinema is worth so much more than watching a good film – among others, it allows us to enjoy the place. An empty cinema is desolating, so the more people, the better. "Without denying the technological advances, perhaps we should question more critically the use we make of them and the way they can help us to introduce changes". M.G. Dias refers to the dilemma that, since the communication technologies subtract the CITY's experience from everyday life, sparing us the joys but also the confrontations and negotiations that community life presupposes, their indiscriminate use will accommodate us to isolation. Like other cities, Lisbon is reopening its doors in stages, throughout the month of May. The process will depend on proper compliance with the rules. The virus has changed our life style, and the strict patterns of behaviour that we will have to follow will deprive us of freely enjoying the many overwhelming experiences that city life entails. What kind of changes is this crisis making in our territory? What should we do to better continue "this superb heritage that is the physical territory built to our community life"? Will we continue to like the cities?
Post and photo credits: Lisboa Architecture Walks & Trips
(1) Manual das Cidades. Relógio D'Água Editores, 2006