Urban Geography MSc students reflect on Covid-19 and our cities

In recent months, no other topic has framed our attention, constrained our activity and defined our lifestyle as much as the Covid-19 global pandemic. As thousands of papers, news articles and opinion pieces written about it attest, there is hardly any area of society that the pandemic does not touch upon. And there is hardly any explanation or implication that is not geographical somehow – Covid-19 is very much about the past, present and future of (urban) spaces, and their economy, networks, social relations, and governance at every scale. Therefore, as our Urban Geography students have to complete short weekly assignments on topical urban issues, nothing more natural that asking them to consider the impacts of the current pandemic in our cities.

We did this through the lens of the urban economy and the spatial configurations of economic activity in contemporary cities. In the lecture given by Dr Arie Romein, we discussed four such configurations that emerge at the intersection of globalisation, capitalism and technology: (1) cultural and creative industry clusters, (2) advanced business services districts, (3) urban innovation districts, and (4) the ‘city as theme park’ trend driven by the tourism and entertainment industries. All are embedded in global flows of people, knowledge and capital, as much as they depend on qualities typical of urban space, such as density, concentration of infrastructure and amenities, and the possibility of intense and continuous face-to-face contact. These configurations are now in a process of change, as Covid-19 exerts its impacts both on the intensity and shape of flows and on the qualities and use of spaces.

The assignment was thus given to the students and in a few days they were able to produce some insightful, whilst speculative, ideas about whether and how these spatial configurations of economic activity in cities will change. Creativity is in full swing here, and sometimes takes over careful evidence gathering, but that type of freedom and openness to unknown futures is precisely the purpose of the essay. By gathering the essays in this small publication, we value the work of TU Delft master students, showcase their creativity and skills as urban thinkers and celebrate the Urban Geography elective course, which ran successfully this time under the most unusual circumstances.

The collection of essays can be found here. Thank you to all the students who joined this initiative and to all the lecturers and guests who made Urban Geography 2020 such a great experience.

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