Over the centuries, Europe, and beyond, has been hit by numerous epidemics of varying intensity, such as the Black Death or the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which have brought about some changes. Among the most affected areas there are certainly demographics and the territory. How did it change after the 14th century plague? And with the current Covid-19 pandemic?
The effects of the waves of plague on the territory
The strong demographic decline due to repeated epidemics, after the great plague of 1348, had important effects on the countryside and cities of Europe which underwent some transformations. In general, it can be said that in the late fourteenth century many villages were abandoned and fell into ruin; many fields remained uncultivated; entire areas depopulated and became marshy, like the Maremma; the majority of cities lost about 40% of the population; lordly incomes fell and numerous popular revolts broke out for different and specific causes, both in the countryside (Jacquerie) and in the cities (Ciompi), a sign of widespread malaise. Many factors of undoubted crisis, however, were counterbalanced by other positive ones: the population was reshuffled for the repopulation of abandoned places or because many moved to the cities; the less productive lands were abandoned and activities and crops diversified (from vines to livestock); lands, goods, shops changed owners and in many places there was a concentration of fortunes; the cost of labor, both in the city and in the countryside, went up; per capita wealth increased and living conditions improved for a significant percentage of the population. In short, a series of changes took place which led to a restructuring of medieval society and which, by convention, go by the name of the crisis of the fourteenth century, where crisis therefore does not mean decadence for all historians.
The impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on cities and countryside
The urbanization phenomenon is a phenomenon that has been self-generated in recent decades. In particular for the sense of security that cities have always instilled, for work and the offer of services. With the Coronavirus, however, the low quality of life has been realized, for this reason the phenomenon of disurbanization is taking place in many cities: from Rome to Milan, to Paris, and especially to New York, where there are about 300 thousand abandonment of the city. in recent months. However, Covid-19 and disurbanization could constitute an opportunity, both for the distribution of resources on the territory, and from a social and human point of view. We need to be able to guarantee infrastructures throughout the country and rethink the organization of spaces, both public and private. The problem is to reconstruct the relationship between city and countryside. It is necessary to rebuild a balance between smart city and smart land. We need to put the territory back in the middle, that is, the social construction, and be able to reconcile the environment on the one hand and the digital on the other. People who want to go to live in the countryside are looking for quiet but not desolate, rather inhabited places. Today the network of Italian agritourisms already exists, but it is necessary to find a system to reward residency in these places. In recent months we have had a false representation of the villages, which we are now rediscovering. There is an Italy that is not marginal, but has been marginalized, due to an urban-centric vision that has shown all its inadequacy during the Coronavirus.
The present and future change in the design of cities
The coronavirus pandemic and confinement have changed not only the way we relate to the city, but also its design. The first changes were rapid and circumstantial, such as restrictions on movement, dividers in supermarkets, signs on floors, balconies converted into centers of social activity or the transformation of fairs into hospitals specifically for the Covid emergency. Many other changes, however, will be the foundations on which post Coronavirus cities will rest. One of the main short-term consequences will inevitably be a greater use of private transport and an aversion to public transport. The bicycle is the cheapest and most effective alternative that will be consolidated in this period. Milan, for example, has announced that among the plans to deal with the Coronavirus there is the progressive construction of 35 new kilometers of cycle paths. This and above all the blocking measures will therefore also lead to an improvement in air quality. Among the short-term measures adopted by the municipalities there will also be the installation of elements of social segregation in public places. Furthermore, there will be a change in the materials used in the various production sectors: copper and bronze will be back in vogue, given the shorter residence time of the virus on their surface. Greater use of teleworking and the rediscovery of one’s neighborhood could be among the long-term effects of the pandemic. The fact that more people work from home will lead to changes in the offices, which will have to house fewer jobs, and in the urban fabric of restaurants and cafes, which until now had been supported by those workers who will now remain in their neighborhoods. The decline of some central services in cities and the strengthening of many neighborhood services will lead to the emergence of new centers. Housing will also change in the medium term towards more comfortable environments that will require space for teleworking and a terrace. This will lead to changes in planning regulations. Post Coronavirus cities will therefore be more vertical, with more trees, parks and places for physical activity in the neighborhoods.