The Post-Pandemic City



In this talk, I will explain that although we are able to explain the way centripetal and centrifugal forces determine the form and function of historic and, to an extent, contemporary cities, our abilities to predict their futures are severely limited. The pandemic has led to changes in locational and travel behaviour as well as regulated lockdowns with respect to where people work, live and social distance from one another, and this makes it impossible to predict how we might respond to a new normal which reflects ways we are able to control and manage the pandemic. As we have little data pertaining to this future, to engage in an informed discussion, we will develop a hypothetical city which is organised according to what we know about spatial interaction, urban hierarchy, density, and heterogeneity of movement. We propose a symmetric square grid of locations, simulate the interactions using classic spatial interaction models, and then lock it down. We then release the lockdown in the transition to a new normal, assuming different parameter values controlling the effects of distance, thus illustrating how difficult it is to generate highly decentralised city forms. From this experience, we apply the model to London, again locking down the metropolis, and then exploring seven very different functional forms that provide us with a sample of different city shapes and densities. Our approach provides a framework for speculating about the future using what we call ‘computable thought experiments’.


Michael Batty is Bartlett Professor of Planning at University College London. He is Chair of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) and a Turing Fellow in the Alan Turing Institute. He was Professor of Town Planning at the University of Wales in Cardiff in the 1980s, Director of the NCGIA at SUNY-Buffalo in the early 1990s before he set up CASA at UCL in 1995. He has worked on computer models of cities and their visualisation since the 1970s and his recent publications Cities and Complexity (2005), The New Science of Cities (2013), Inventing Future Cities (2018), all published by The MIT Press, and the edited book Urban Informatics (Springer 2021) reflect this focus on the applications of digital technologies to urban planning. He is a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), the Royal Society (FRS) and the Academy of Social Science (FAcSS) and was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2004.

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