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  • Alberto Silva

New normal? First, we will have to go through Purgatory

Coping with the Covid-19 pandemic has generated very strong impacts on urban life due to restrictions on the agglomeration and circulation of people. Because of this, a lot has been said about a new normal. But the pandemic has not yet passed, and we are still experiencing restrictions. And they have exposed old and new challenges to life in cities. In a way, we are at a crossroads, a purgatory, where we can make choices in relation to the challenges exposed by the pandemic.

The home office and the purchases via the Internet expansion are leading to the virtual communication use intensification. These elements would be called as the new normal demonstrations. The quarantine easing measures in Asia and Europe would be another one. There, the return of economic and school activities and the use of public spaces are occurring with restrictions in terms of timing and the amount of people’s access. This would lead to new patterns of consumption and relationships.

However, the city is, by definition, agglomeration and circulation of people and things. It is, in its genesis, the place of encounter, of exchange. It is the market for things and ideas. A set of structures, equipment, systems and services. A tangle of value chains, the links of which often serve more than one at the same time. The city is diverse and mix of uses. And the bigger it is, the more differentiated and complex its functions will be. And, above all, in the case of Brazilian cities, as well as so many in Latin America, Africa and Asia, very unequal.

Housing conditions, access to water, public transport, information technology, the informal economy and unemployment make the impact of the pandemic and preventive measures also uneven. Sectors such as commerce, services, culture and tourism are under strong pressure.

It is then necessary to reflect on how definitive the pandemic containment measures would be. How much they would determine structural changes in cities. Do they have the strength to transform the urban way of life?

Perhaps, before talking about a new normal, it is necessary to analyze the possible impacts of the epidemic and of the coping measures on cities after the pandemic has passed.

An important aspect is to understand the moment and trends of this pandemic. Based on what the WHO and the specialist scientists point out, until a vaccine is available for the entire population, we will have to live with the permanence of social distance, in different degrees of intensity, with possible moments of easing and closing.

The return of the disease in places where control appeared to have been established confirms the concerns and warnings of scientists. And the optimistic forecasts point to a period of at least one year plus the time for it to reach all people. Until then, we must live with the shadow of the virus and more or less intense prevention measures.

In this case, what we are experiencing is, in fact, a period of transition, until a new normal is established. A kind of purgatory, where we can seek redemption, or continue to tend to aggravate social inequalities, environmental degradation and urban (de) economies.

In this purgatory phase, caused by the pandemic, latent problems were revealed and exacerbated. Especially in cities in developing countries, issues such as housing conditions, sanitation, public transport, access to information technologies, showed their weaknesses both from a health, as well as a social and economic point of view. However, a fundamental aspect that has been demonstrated is that these issues are integrated. Thus, they need to be understood and, above all, faced in an integrated manner as well. This requires, at least, that there is a review of current paradigms.

It is therefore necessary to reflect on this moment in purgatory and seek to extract lessons and possibilities from the challenges that the pandemic and this period of transition present before talking about new patterns of normality. Especially because, whatever it is, a new normal will, as always, be the result of a social construction that is not given.


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