Countries are said to always fight the previous war. The only answer to this unprecedented crisis can not be that we only come to a duty to stay inside and wait for a vaccine. We have to redesign our societies drastically.
Our cities can play a pioneering role in this. To what extent do they allow the lessons of this crisis to be translated into a different design and layout of our cities? Shouldn’t we include the ‘viral aspect’ in the design of new neighbourhoods, and the use of current ones?
Are densely built dwellings of ever smaller dimensions not an obstacle to the effective control of any kind of virus? In New York, for instance, the core of the outbreak seems to lie in the poorer neighbourhoods of Queens, where poverty and crowded housing go hand in hand.
To what extent is the air quality in and around our cities a reason for a diminished functioning of our immune system? Is it a coincidence that Wuhan, where the virus seems to have started, is one of the most polluted cities in China? A newspaper wrote: ‘Wuhan, a city with a mysterious haze‘. Anyone looking for photographs of Wuhan sometimes sees tower blocks shrouded in thick red soup. Even in Lombardy (Italy), where the virus struck so mercilessly, the air is one of the most polluted in Europe.
It is too easy to hold one factor responsible for the rapid spread of a virus. But it would be good if the lessons were learned not only by doctors and pharmacists, but by society as a whole. Our lifestyle causes structural weakening of our resilience. Our market system, which offers both our pulp food and the pharmaceutical industry, which in turn earns from the effects of this on our weakened resistance, is a starting point for change.
Shouldn’t we bring the deadlocked climate debate closer to our world? Shouldn’t we (again) talk about ‘the environment’, literally what is near to us? After all, that is where we immediately see the perceptible effects of our actions. If we are good for our environment, we are good for ourselves and for a people-friendly climate. Then we see the devastation in our forests to keep our wood-burning stoves and ‘bio’ power stations burning. Then we smell the stench of burnt wood in our streets and feel in our lungs that this isn’t good.
And if you drive past any main airport, you can smell the kerosene entering your car. This is immediately noticeable, so it’s the environment. Meanwhile, under the guise of Corona, airports and airlines are being kept afloat with unimaginable sums of money in order to be able to start flying again after this period. But why should air traffic continue to grow? Why do we have to fly across the world for billions of flowers to deliver a fresh bunch to a New York table? Why do we have to be the second food producer in the world in such a small country? Why do we have to turn our hospitals into investment objects? Why are we allowed to make a profit on medicines and vaccinations?
If we don’t want to end up in a state of social emergency every few years, with an obligation to lock down people, with our steps following apps, then we’ll have to take the broom through our lifestyle, our greed, our worldwide ordered stuff, our shopping weekends in London, Paris or New York. We’ll have to start paying fair prices for good food, a real price for a ticket, and make sure everyone gets a standard of living to live healthier lives.
It is especially the cities that are now so much praised for their success as money cannons and rogue casino economies. Cities went on sale meter by meter to the highest bidder. More expensive homes. Smaller houses. Another open space built. Another campaign to attract Chinese or tourists from around the globe. Cities burst because of all those budget tourists who live in AIRBNB apartments.
It is now up to the cities to curb their hunger for money and draw a line under the unbridled growth of viral tourism. Now is the time to design a healthy future for our children so that they don’t have to be hungry again with the next virus, begging for the ‘saving vaccination’ and being spared an ‘other half meter economy’. On the contrary, they deserve a life of freedom and good health.
And after such a healthy life, we have to accept that even a healthy life is a finite life and that denial of it can lead us to draconian interventions in everything that is so valuable to us throughout life: freedom, health and living without fear.