Cities have weathered plagues and pandemics throughout history. Chicago Booth’s Chang-Tai Hsieh says a vaccine would lump COVID-19 in with those outbreaks. But without a vaccine, cities may never be the same.
What does the pandemic mean for the future of cities? It really depends on whether we find a vaccine.
If we don’t find a vaccine or the vaccine we find is not very effective, then I can see how this is going to change how cities work. That is, places like New York City are no longer going to be feasible, places like Mumbai are no longer going to be feasible, because these are just going to be cesspools of infestation.
If we do find a vaccine, which is what I’m hopeful for, then I think that for cities this is just going to be a footnote. This is just going to be like influenza, or this is just going to be like cholera, or this is just going to be like bubonic plague. These were all plagues, these were all pandemics that really hit the world at different points in time. We found a vaccine, and they are no longer an issue.
So it really depends on whether we find a vaccine. I can also see how people think, well this time it’s COVID-19, maybe in five years it’s going to be something else, and these things are going to be increasing in frequency. I don’t know enough about where COVID-19 came from to know whether this is likely or whether this is something that people are going to think about, but it’s possible.
But the point is that we all think that there are huge benefits of interacting with other people, and then sometimes we forget that there are also huge cons of interacting with other people in the sense of we also get their diseases. It’s that trade-off.