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The COVID-19 pandemic has architects, urban planners and social scientists of all stripes already pondering ways to adapt our built environment to new behavioral norms.

by Ian Spula

This comes as no surprise. Public health crises have reshaped cities throughout modern history, from rampant outbreaks of cholera and tuberculosis in the 19th century to the prior pandemic in 1918 of influenza.

Earlier this week, Chicago architect Ernest C. Wong, founding principal and president at site design group, ltd., penned a letter to the CAC, expressing his anxieties—personal and professional—while imploring people to get busy thinking about our shared future. Ernie’s letter included the following observations:

"As one of the high-risk individuals of being a baby boomer with a history of respiratory problems including a recent bout with pneumonia, I also have a dog that must be walked daily. I’ve been trying my hardest to abide by the social distancing, constantly wiping down surfaces and door handles, and limiting my movement to a small area surrounding my computer. As the weather has been changing, I’ve seen more people using this time to get in shape, occupying the valuable streets and park spaces that we covet, and generally ignoring all of the warning signs and practices that have been told to us on television and the internet. We just can’t help ourselves…

I believe that we all have to be smarter, more disciplined, and respectful of each other. We’ll have to approach life more timidly at first, until we can gain more trust in ourselves and each other. It’s almost like learning how to walk again. One thing is true though, that we’ll be better prepared for the next dilemma…

…This is the time to share your thoughts. Documenting this moment in history will gain insight in how we plan for the future, whether it’s [in] the private or the public realm."

Our pledge to you in the weeks to come, heeding Ernie’s call, is to “let the ideas fly” through written commentary and webcast talks with key stakeholders included among our broad array of CAC Live events, free to CAC members. What are we beginning to learn from this pandemic that may serve the collective good?

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