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13 November 2020
Epidemics, Planning and the City
The rapid spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) worldwide and, in particular, within urban environments has fuelled discussion on the role of planning and the adaptations to urban forms and policies that may be required to contain, isolate and treat the disease within cities going forwards. But while Covid-19 may be a new pandemic and pose new challenges for cities, strategies of these kinds, formulated in response to earlier epidemics that have affected many cities at different times - such as Cholera, Tuberculosis, Typhoid, Dysentery, Smallpox and the Spanish Flu - are old.
The aim of this special issue of Planning Perspectives is to turn to the past to explore both how the challenge of infectious diseases in other times has been constructed in the context of planning and how processes and strategies to contain, isolate and treat them have been developed and deployed. Planning Perspectives is a journal devoted to the historical study of agents, institutions, documents, processes, practices and narratives connected with urban and regional planning.
Cities across the world are replete with examples of spatial and material transformations initiated in response to the threats posed by infectious diseases to urban populations. In London, for example, vast transformations in the city’s urban fabric in the Victorian era were motivated and legitimized by high levels of sickness and mortality connected to epidemics such as Cholera. These included the development of city-wide sanitary infrastructure and of new embankments to the River Thames, the initiation of major neighbourhood redevelopment programmes linked to strategies to decongest the city and create more distance between people in residential areas, and the construction of parks, hospitals and other public works.
How the challenge posed by diseases to cities has been understood can otherwise be explored through theoretical texts, records of debates, treatises and utopian plans that may not have always had a direct, tangible outcome but that reveal important links between concerns over human health and visions of the city in different periods.
Connections can also be traced between epidemiology and the development of planning control in cities, offering a lens through which to reflect on the political implications of health planning. For example, the desire to combat disease has motivated the formation of new kinds of municipal government designed not only to curb the powers of private sector city-makers but also create mechanisms through which to develop public works. It has led to the creation of development controls and regulations, such as new standards for light, air and cleanliness that shaped and conditioned practices of care in the hospital, the neighbourhood and the home. At the same time, the evolution of governance arrangements has been associated with the creation of new powers to designate areas as ‘unfit’ for human habitation, as ‘rookeries’ or ‘slums,’ and to marginalise, open them up or erase them altogether. As Foucault suggests, disease has often created conditions that justify the development or escalation of State regulation over the lives of citizens, such as through ‘spatial partitioning,’ much as is being seen now in the context of global lockdowns and social distancing rules.
Much has of course been written about health and planning. This special issue invites contributions focussed on how cities have confronted the challenge of other/ earlier epidemics in global planning history as well as on the significance of those strategies for cities and urban societies with the specific aim of reflecting on the challenges facing cities today in their quests to impede the spread of Covid-19. What can be learnt from history about the difficulties or effectiveness of strategies of isolation and containment? What does history teach, caution against, or suggest as positive or problematic? What does it help to understand about the potential politics of planning in relation to Covid-19?
Papers may address the following themes, but are not limited to them:
- How disease and its prevention/management have been understood and how this has shaped urban planning such as in terms of crowding/ decongestion, infrastructure and transport, the planning of hospitals, parks and so on.
- How different kinds of disease transmission (airborne, water borne, etc) have shaped different sorts of planning strategy.
- How disease has motivated planning-related activisms and/or social reforms.
- How disease has been bound up with the marginalisation and/or regeneration of deprived places and shaped perceptions of urban disorder, dirt, morality and the like.
- Relationships between planning, power and disease.
- How urban transformation aimed at addressing disease is connected to the production of other sorts of health issues such as those associated with urban sprawl.
While this suggests a broad range of possible approaches, it is important to stress that the planning process seen from a historical perspective has to be the centre of attention in any article to be acceptable to Planning Perspectives.
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If you are interested in contributing to this special issue, please get in touch with the guest editor as soon as possible, setting out preliminary ideas and/or providing an abstract.
The aim of the editorial process will be to work with contributors to develop the special issue. However, the requirements of papers, submission process and peer review will follow the established guidelines for the journal. These can be found through the following links below.
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