Urban Design Shift – How COVID Affected The Design Of Places

March 21, 2024

Updated March 21, 2024
Originally published September 18, 2020

One of the questions continuing to face developers, planners, and architects is how to respond to the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban design and planning. With the potential need for social distancing again in the future and the widespread adoption of remote work, the design of public spaces and urban environments has undergone significant transformation over the last several years.

Historical Context

Throughout history, cities have adapted their urban planning and design in response to pandemics. European cities, for instance, responded to the Black Plague by implementing measures to reduce urban density and enhance sanitation. Similarly, 18th and 19th-century city planners implemented strategies such as creating wide boulevards, establishing sewer systems, and introducing indoor plumbing to combat cholera epidemics.

Drawing lessons from history, developers and planners are leveraging past experiences to inform their response to COVID-19. While decentralization and reducing urban density have historically been strategies to combat the spread of diseases, COVID-19 showed us that those in more dense urban areas had better health outcomes than their suburban and rural counterparts. While there are undoubtedly several factors that contributed to this, the benefit of dense walkability (and therefore better overall health in most residents) cannot go unrecognized.

Design Changes

The COVID-19 era prompted significant changes in the design of public spaces and urban environments. Designers have reimagined the layout of shared spaces to be flexible and accommodate different (and sometimes physically distanced) uses. When creating new spaces, designers are creating larger, more open areas that allow people to physically distance. These larger spaces account for the movement of people, and their design naturally tells users how to interact with the space without the need for signage. New spaces also use more modern and easier-to-clean materials, so employees have to spend less time cleaning and sanitizing the space and can instead work with customers and patrons.

The pandemic has also underscored the importance of green spaces in promoting mental health and well-being. Studies have shown general increases in stress, anxiety, and depression related to isolation and the pandemic. As a result, developers are incorporating more green spaces into urban environments, recognizing their role in reducing stress, enhancing community cohesion, and improving property values.

Adapting in the Post-COVID Era

Looking ahead, the design of public spaces and urban environments will continue to evolve in response to the ongoing challenges posed by the aftermath of COVID-19. Density will remain a key consideration, with designers seeking to strike a balance between density, flexibility and accessibility. But rather than promoting decentralization, the focus should be on creating vibrant, resilient urban environments that prioritize public health and well-being.

In conclusion, COVID-19 has fundamentally altered the way we design and plan our cities. As we continue to navigate the post-pandemic landscape, it is essential to draw on historical lessons and adopt a holistic approach to urban design that prioritizes density, accessibility, and sustainability.

Get in Touch

Our team at JHP specializes in development and community planning and can offer insights tailored to your post-pandemic goals. Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help you navigate the evolving landscape of urban design in the post-COVID era.