What a year

Who would have thought back at the end of 2019 that only a few months later retreating from the social interactions that so fundamentally define our cities would become, in 2020, our universal trait. This city of 2020 has been one of deserted city centres, empty train carriages, closed bars and restaurants, theatres with no shows, and busy forests instead of busy street-markets. At the time of writing, London is at the heart of a new variant of the virus, a significantly more infectious one, an alarming call for the imposition of much stricter and more prolonged measures on the city and on other affected areas in the UK and beyond.

“For how much longer will this go on?” we all wonder. And what then? “What happens when this ends?” is an equally, if not a more pressing question. For while the pandemic will end—vaccination programmes that will safely provide population-wide immunity are already in progress in many countries, and better treatments are being developed the more scientists learn about the new virus—can we really go back to normal? What can we learn from the changes COVID19 has forced upon us?

This special issue edited in collaboration with Undine Giseke, Chair of Landscape Architecture and Open Space planning and Urban Design Dean of Studies at the TU Berlin and senior researcher Xenia Kokoula, calls for such a moment of learning. It brings together a selection of student work from the unusual, online-only summer term of 2020. A long-standing seminar in the curriculum was filled with new content and a new task: to reflect how the novel coronavirus hitching on human and non-human bodies transcends organic, spatial, social and political boundaries. And it went beyond: to the broader topic of boundaries and categories and the systematics underpinning them; a topic that has gained momentum since the advance of the Anthropocene.

We cannot sustain the illusion of a natural sphere untouched from human activity, neither in scientific thinking nor in real life. Equally, we cannot assume that we will be able to control the urban sphere and keep it largely unaffected by natural processes and non-human actors. According to the feminist, biologist and utopian thinker Donna J. Haraway new kinships with technology, animals and even parasitic organisms will continue to emerge and it is precisely these kinships that show a way forward. In this sense the pandemic also challenges us to critically reflect future questions on co-existence and human-nonhuman interaction. Taking these questions to different urban contexts across the globe, the students illustrate the new challenges that await us in the post-pandemic world.

The issue is equally an opportunity to recollect, in our post(covid)cards archive the thoughts and hopes of our readers across the world in response to such an extraordinary year. We also had the chance to talk to David Calas, discussing his team’s project, documented in their book Learning from Quarantine, a day-to-day processing of a reality approachable, in effect, only via its mediatisation from a physically confined state of ‘lockdown’.

Warm wishes and much hope for a 2021 where we can meet again.


Special Issue, COVID-19 one year in