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Until further notice, all CAC walking tours are suspended and the Center at 111 E. Wacker Dr. is closed, in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines from the State of Illinois.

City life is virtually unrecognizable amid orders to stay at home. Our temporary inability to visit parks, patronize businesses and use mass transit inevitably shapes how we negotiate shared space and view the urban environment.

by Ian Spula

Similarly, human activity—or lack thereof—profoundly affects the natural world. When it wanes this dramatically, expect some unusual effects.

A few curious and recent scientific observations are listed below and beg the question: What will we do with what we’ve learned from spatial distancing?

BETTER EARTHQUAKE DETECTION

A reduction in human-induced planetary vibration, or “seismic noise,” has permitted more accurate detection of earthquakes around the world. Seismic activity itself is unaffected, but suddenly, our sensors work better. According to one Belgian seismologist, this level of global calm usually only happens on Christmas Day. (Source: The New York Times)

CLEANER AIR

Almost overnight, the air in Los Angeles became cleaner than that of nearly any other global city—particularly notable considering how L.A. claimed this country’s dirtiest air for 19 out of the past 20 years. Will city dwellers and our elected officials have the will to hold onto environmental gains once the world goes back to work? (Source: CNN)

ALTERED WEATHER FORECASTS

Airplanes are commonly equipped with sensors that record weather conditions and continually feed these data points to meteorologists. With fewer planes in the sky, the accuracy of forecasts may suffer. (Source: Gizmodo)

LESS NOISE

You may have noticed more birdsong of late. Yes, that’s partially because spring has sprung, but city soundscapes have also undergone a melodic transformation. Public health researchers say noise pollution meters at typically loud intersections are showing much lower readings. The roar of the city has become a whisper. (Source: The Atlantic )

As an open call in this extraordinary moment—not just to design professionals, but to all of our city’s residents—we want to hear about the problems and opportunities you’re observing anew in our designed world.

What does a world on pause permit you to see with new clarity? To share your ideas with the CAC community, please submit a brief explanation, 100 words or fewer with an accompanying high-resolution image, via email to programs@architecture.org.