The Post-Pandemic City: A Four-Part Course with Jan Otakar Fischer

The Post-Pandemic City: A Four-Part Course with Jan Otakar Fischer


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Cities first emerged about 9,000 years ago. Given their high densities and often unregulated hygienic conditions, they have always been the loci of epidemics. The practices we employ today—physical distancing; quarantine; mask-wearing; lockdowns; disinfection—were found to be effective against plague during the European Middle Ages. In the late nineteenth century, political reformers across Europe recognized that poverty did not create disease, but rather enhanced its virulence, and therefore it was the duty of good government to improve both the living and working conditions of the working class. The result was a modern concept of public health, which preceded, but was soon bolstered by, the introduction of widespread public vaccination.

Only within the last 150 years has science enabled a solid understanding of the means of infectious disease transmission—via bacteria, viruses, and parasites. For thousands of years, we were largely ignorant about the pathogens that devastated (and sometimes ended) cultures throughout the world. The “germ theory” of disease that became widely accepted at the end of the 19th century allowed doctors to develop revolutionary treatments that would relieve much perennial suffering. As the current Covid-19 pandemic makes tragically clear, however, science does not yet have all the answers. We remain vulnerable.

This course starts with a look at the profound historical and cultural impact of the most infamous infectious diseases (plague, smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, Spanish Flu, HIV/Aids, SARS, etc.) on the evolution of western cities. The efforts to combat or prevent these diseases within the urban context has determined a great deal about how cities are structured and organized. We will examine how a specific city, Berlin, Germany, successfully fought off the infectious diseases (chiefly cholera) that had flourished in the squalor of industrial living in the 19th century. Engineering and progressive politics—which generated a new sewer system and rational urban planning—made this transformation possible, as it soon did in countless other cities of the modern era. The course will then examine how 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic has already affected the way cities function today, for better or worse. Finally, we will ask what hard lessons we have learned during this crisis about how cities can and must function better in the future with relation to epidemics, particularly in light of the ongoing challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, and socio-political inequality.

Led by an expert on urban history and design, Jan Otakar Fischer, this course will explore the relationship between cities and disease. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of how better urban design can improve public health.

 

Lecture 1: Epidemics and Urban Life: How Cities have Responded to Infectious Disease

A look back at the ways modern cities have been forced to redesign almost everything—from city blocks to sewers to bathrooms—to defeat inevitable waves of sickening microbes. In the process, cities have not only survived but flourished.

Lecture 2: Case Study: Berlin, the Industrial Revolution, and Cholera

The capital of Germany is a prime example of a city that faced recurrent waves of deadly epidemics as a result of rapid 19th-century industrialization. Berlin responded with pioneering solutions that helped establish both today’s public health strategies and Berlin’s unique urban Gestalt.

Lecture 3: The Covid-19 Pandemic: Effects on Cities in 2020

Although we are still in the midst of the 21st century’s first truly global health crisis, we need to study the impact the coronavirus already has had on cities worldwide. How have ideas about urban living and work practices, transportation, density, security, social interactions, environmental impacts, and the allocation of resources all come to be questioned by the struggle to defend ourselves against an omnipresent pathogen? Such familiar places as streets, parks, offices, and kitchens are not what they were a year ago. Public and private space is being redefined.

Lecture 4: Urban Design in an Age of Contagion and Climate Change

A century of complacency is over. We have been reminded the hard way that major epidemics will always affect our future. Our failure to address climate change has exacerbated the threat. Yet, despite arguments for suburbia and isolated living, the metropolis—high-density and intensely interactive—will not disappear as a result of Covid-19. We must use the lessons of this crisis to make cities everywhere more healthy, which means making them more equitable, comfortable, productive, and ecologically sound.

Jan Otakar Fischer grew up in New York City, graduated from Williams College in 1985 with Honors in the History of Ideas, and received his Master’s in Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1990. He has worked as an architect and academic in Berlin since 1994. Jan has been a regular contributor to a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, the Harvard Design Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Architectural Record, and Places magazine, writing chiefly about European architecture and urbanism. He has taught urban studies, history, sustainability, and visual culture at the IES Berlin Metropolitan Studies Program for over a decade, and has served as an invited guest critic or lecturer at several universities. From 2010-2018 he was the co-founder and Academic Director of the Northeastern University School of Architecture Berlin Program, for which he also taught architectural history and sustainable practices.

 

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in urban planning and pandemic history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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Informative, interesting and cross-disciplinary
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Customer Reviews

Based on 4 reviews
100%
(4)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
J
J.H.
J
J.H.
C
C.H.
Informative, interesting and cross-disciplinary
C
C.B.
Very interesting