Pandemic Urbanism

Praxis in the Time of Covid-19

A Collective Effort

Draft: April 22, 2020

Video: Pandemic Urbanism: Praxis in the Time of COVID-19

This open access reading list is a result of the collective effort of PhD and Masters students in the Urban Planning program at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. The aim of the list is to provide a collection of materials that address the pandemic as it relates to urbanism, urban planning, architecture, and the built environment. The material presented here is being collected, organized and summarized over the months of March and April 2020 as we witnessed our lives transformed by the COVID 19 crisis, especially in New York City, a city many of us call home and a place that has become one of the main hotspots for the spread of the infectious disease that so far has killed more than 15,000 people (as of April 22). Our hope that this list will be useful in bringing together -in one document- materials that students and scholars will find useful to think about the pandemic as it relates to urbanization. We also hope that this document will become a “living document” that people can take the liberty to update with relevant entries in the spirit of providing a collective resource for people across the globe interested in the implications of COVID-19 for our built environment (instructions to add entries are at the bottom of the document).

About the team:  

Assembled and developed during Professor Hiba Bou Akar’s spring 2020 classes: “On Spatial Exclusion and Planning” and “Advanced Planning Theory.”

Contributions by (in alphabetical order): Maureen Abi Ghanem; Sebastian Andersson; Dare Brawley; Jenna Davis; Lanier Hagerty; Joe Hunnekens; Martine Johannessen; Juan Sebastián Moreno; Stefan Norgaard; Zeineb Sellami; and Wenfei Xu.

For comments or questions, please email:

Table of Contents:  

I. Urban History of Pandemics 

II. Urban Planning and the Spatiality of the Crisis

III. Political Economy, Labor, and (De)-Development

IV. Housing, Informality, Homelessness

V. Urban Governance, Governmentality, and Political Theory

VI. Architecture, Design, and ‘Innovation’

VII. Gender, Space and the Pandemic

VIII. Carceral Spaces, Race, and Settler Colonialism 

IX. Conflict, Post-conflict and COVID-19

X. Data and Privacy

XI. Academia and the Pandemic

*Instructions on Adding Entries 

I. Urban History of Pandemics

There is an expansive urban history on disease as it relates to the built environment. Our readings in this section revolved around three axes: (a) History of Disease Containment and its Mappings, (b) Disease, Discrimination, and the rise of Urban Regulations and Urban Parks, and (c) Diseases and Colonialisms (which is a vast topic by itself).

(a) In disease containment and its mapping, authors discuss the different geographic and urban approaches to the containment of disease. Some of the entries here make the argument that approaches to contagious disease went through three phases: (i) First, exclusion, for example, by forcibly removing infected persons to remote places as chronicled in the tragic stories of leper colonies in the United States like the case of Kalaupapa, Hawaii, Penikese Island in Massachusetts, and Carville, Baton Rouge; (ii) Second, “inclusion” which did not involve sending people away but confining them to quarantined spaces inside cities, for example, by establishing containment zones. These spatial practices were always rooted in class, racial, and gendered discriminatory practices such as: containing the poor from infecting the rich during outbreaks because the poor were assumed to harbor the disease due to their poor living conditions; halting the mobility of racialized immigrants who were thought to carry the disease across borders such as the burning of a Mexican neighborhood in Los Angeles during a Black Death epidemic or the mapping of Chinatown in San Francisco as a public health threat to white Americans; or more recently, by circumscribing the mobility of gay men during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. (iii) Third, a move from exclusion and inclusion towards normalization through public health measures such as mass vaccination. However, authors also agree that the three strategies are not mutually exclusive -- neither spatially, nor temporally-- as we are seeing now with the establishment of “containment zones” in Indian cities for example.

Mapping the disease by mapping infected people in space (which we are seeing during the COVID-19 pandemic) started as early 1600s but was popularized in the late 1800s during the cholera outbreak in London where a breakthrough in isolating the cause of cholera by mapping Soho (London) and realizing that all infections could be traced back to a public water pump which has become the foundation for modern day water infrastructure in cities. Since then, the spatial dimension of epidemiology continued to evolve to the current status which depends mostly on web-based GIS mappings.

(b) The urban history of disease also revolves around how aspects of modern urban planning, the rise of urban parks, and certain elements of modern architecture have partly emerged in responses to disease outbreaks and measures to contain them. At the time when cholera’s root cause was not properly identified as contaminated water and was blamed instead on miasmas (obnoxious gases), prominent architects and urban designers, like Le Corbusier and Olmstead, argued that the solution to the spread of contagious disease is through the provision of urban parks, an idea that was popularized in European cities and then exported to US cities like New York. Certain building regulations also centered on those ideas of transmission through air and shaped how buildings relate to each other and to the street (distance for light and ventilation for example). Similarly, modern architecture features like flat roofs, balconies, and roof or garden terraces, were not only avant garde but had a function in disease control--their aim was for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis by creating spaces allowing exposure to sun, light and air.

(c) In terms of urban history too, disease control was central to the spatiality of colonial rule. Different authors described how the Belgians in Congo, the British in India, and the French in North Africa used disease as a reason to further dispossess and segregate local populations from colonial elites. Echoing the usual threads in studies of the spatiality of the colonial encounter, works in this section range from discussing how European scientific norms were imposed on the natives, to illustrating how native spaces were used as scientific laboratories for practices of disease containments. They also discussed how native populations had extensive local knowledge in halting the spread of diseases that was far more relevant and contextualized, which in certain cases influenced the colonizers’ approach to containment in the colonies and the mainland, and/or led to the erosion of local healing practices.


I.a. History of Disease Containment and its Mapping

Academic Content

Hinchliffe, Steve, Nick Bingham, John Allen, and Simon Carter. Pathological Lives: Disease, Space and Biopolitics. John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

  • Pathological Lives analyzes the current approaches to biosecurity. It focuses on the importance of a geographical and spatial analysis of disease spread and control. Describing infectious disease as “emergency to come” (like we are seeing with COVID 19), the authors outline the sociological and governmental approaches to address disease. In the parts that focus on space, the authors map the changes in approach towards disease spread: from exclusion (leper- forcefully removing infected people to faraway colonies), inclusion (plaque-- establishing quarantine places in towns), to normalization (chicken box that was normalized and moving towards managing anticipation through vaccination).

Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. Reprint edition. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

  • This book chronicles the intertwined “histories of the spread of disease, the rise of cities, and the nature of scientific inquiry,” by telling the story of London in the years after the outbreak of cholera in 1854. London at the time did not have clean water or garbage removal or sewers to support the massive urbanization. The book focuses on the mapping work of Dr. Snow, the “father of epidemiology,” who by mapping the city and the spread of disease discovered the relationship between water contamination and the disease which shaped the future of planning in London and other cities in the world.

Koch, Tom. Cartographies of Disease: Maps, Mapping, and Medicine. 2 edition. Redlands, California: ESRI Press, 2016.

  • Provides a comprehensive survey of the technologies of mapping in the battle against disease- from its growth in the 1900s to “renaissance” in the 1990s with globalization. The author makes an argument that maps are not representations of spatial realities but that maps are “a way of thinking about relationships between viral and bacterial communities, human hosts, and the environments in which diseases flourish.” Since this book is published by ESRI, it makes an argument for the use of GSI in current mapping of diseases.

Gandy, Matthew. “The Bacteriological City and Its Discontents.” Historical Geography 34, no. 0 (2006): 14–25.

  • Provides a comprehensive examination about the changes in urban policies, management, and urbanization in general as a reaction to the disease. For example, the emergence of a “networked” modern water and sewage infrastructure that is mostly the domain of the public is rooted in the cities’ (and modern nation states’) abilities to contain disease and attend to public health.

Deverell, William Francis. “Ethnic Quarantine.” In Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past, 172–206. Berkeley: University of California Press, c2004.

  • A haunting account about the spread of the Black Death/bubonic plague in Los Angeles among a Mexican community, which was used as a pretext by the “City of Angels” that was obsessed by an image of economic bliss to burn down entire Mexican neighborhoods. “An official report less than a year after the plague outbreak stated that over a thousand shacks and old houses, ‘housing Mexican wage earners mostly,’ had been destroyed and that, all told, roughly 2,500 buildings had been yanked down, burned, or carried away as scrap. It is clear from the photographic evidence of this early example of urban renewal—renewal as urban clearcutting—that the destruction was widespread and ferocious.” The plague offered the city the opportunity to redraw LA’s landscape along ethnic and racial lines, marginalizing Mexicans and equating them in official and public discourses with the rat infestation that was also threatening the constructed image of the city.

Bashford, Alison, ed. Quarantine: Local and Global Histories. Macmillan International Higher Education, 2016.

  • In the wake of the Ebola epidemic, this edited volume discusses the multiple histories and spatialities of quarantining.

Shah, Nayan.  “Public Health and the Mapping of Chinatown.”  In: Asian American Studies Now: A Critical Reader, ed.Jean Yu-wen Shen Wu and Thomas Chen. Rutgers University press 2010.  

  • Shah examines the context of 19th century Chinatown in San Francisco, noting how public-sector officials feared infectious disease due to the area’s density, perceived disorder, and “overcrowded” tenement housing. The author argues that “[t]he persuasive power of public health knowledge was its capacity to identify, intensify, and relentlessly classify popular representations into a limited array of mutually sustaining racial and medical meanings” (p. 170). Key to public health officials’ investigation, Shah notes, were harmful and absurd ethnoracial myths about Chinese Americans vs. white Americans.

Rogers, Heather. Rubbish Past. In Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, p. 29-58. New York; York: The New Press, 2006.

  • This chapter discusses the emergence of the public sanitation system in US cities in 19th C, focusing on New York City, as a response to a hygiene crisis. The author shows how “directly and indirectly, refuse and public health were imbricated with the general project of shoring up social order” and “trash and squalor were linked to social upheaval.” The chapter also highlights the context of racial violence around which this sanitation regulations were enacted and enforced.

Ivan L. Munuera. HIV and AIDS Kin: The Discotecture of Paradise Garage, Thresholds, 2020 NO. 48, 133-147

  • A fascinating account of the ways in which political activism to face the AIDS/HIV epidemic in NYC in the 1980s created “an architectural revolution,” particularly in dance clubs, like Paradise Garage, where new communities emerged to counter the erasure and misinformation, stigmatization and discrimination against those that were battling the disease. These clubs emerged as hybrid spaces, always in the making (literally, constructed over time), where dancing became a form resistance, and where solidarity chants erupted between dance songs, forging in the process new kinships between infected bodies that transcended traditional kinship boundaries and that in turn re-made the city’s response to the disease.

Long Form Content

Wong, Alia. May 27, 2015. People With Leprosy Were Exiled There—Should It Be a Tourist Destination?” The Atlantic.

  • A leper colony was opened in 1866 in Kalaupapa, Hawaii- a peninsula that is physically isolated from the rest of Molokai and is connected only by a winding mule trail. It is estimated that 8000 individuals were forcibly removed from their families and forced to relocate to Kalaupapa over the course of the century. Almost all of them were Native Hawaiian. Children born in the colony were taken away for adoption. As usual with pandemics, “the ostracizing and hysteria surrounding leprosy were disproportionately directed at non-whites and other marginalized groups.” While the quarantine was lifted in 1969, patients opted and were allowed to keep living there (no new people are allowed to move-in).The National Park Service designated the island as a national park in 1980 and are waiting for the last patient to die to transform the entire island to a touristic destination which has become a terrain of contestation given the sacred and native political history of the island.

Frost, Natasha (March 31, 2020). “Quarantined for Life: The Tragic History of US Leprosy Colonies.” HISTORY.

  • This essay gives an overview of the tragic history of the leprosy colonies that the United established to halt the spread of disease. Patients were forcibly removed and relocated to these designated segregated areas. The author discusses Kalaupapa, the colony set up in Hawaii, which became the destination for segregated Native Hawiians. The other example comes from Carville, Baton Rouge where patients were initially housed in former slave cabins, eventually a hospital and treatment facility were built in the area. In both cases, many of the patients decided to stay even after the quarantining rules against them were lifted-- 1969 in Kalaupapa while the hospital in Carville closed in 1999.

McNeil Jr., Donald G (August 12, 2014). “Using a Tactic Unseen in a Century, Countries Cordon Off Ebola-Racked Areas.” The New York Times, sec. Science. 

  • The NYTimes reports on how, with the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014, three countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with the highest Ebola infections and deaths at the time, decided to revive the “cordon sanitaire” a practice that has not been used in a century. According to the essay, “The phrase cordon sanitaire, or sanitary barrier, appears to date from 1821, when France sent 30,000 troops into the Pyrenees to stop a lethal fever raging in Spain from crossing the border.”

Wills, Matthew. “When New Yorkers Burned Down a Quarantine Hospital.” JSTOR Daily, September 19, 2019. 

& Stephenson, Kathryn. “The Quarantine War: The Burning of the New York Marine Hospital in 1858.” Public Health Reports (1974-) 119, no. 1 (2004): 79–92.

  • Discusses how a mob of the propertied people burned down the New York Marine Hospital in Staten Island in an act of NIMBY-sim. The hospital was built in 1799 to quarantine people with contagious diseases in what was considered a remote area.  Kathryn Stephenson argues “that the well-prepared arsonists were led by men of property who wanted to “remove an obstacle to development and investment.” The xenophobia of the islanders was also a factor, echoing racist voices today who claim foreigners bring in crime and disease. For all their stated fear of disease, however, locals happily paraded through the smoking ruins and the displaced patients, seemingly unworried about infection. Stephenson writes: “The destruction of the Quarantine was less an irrational act of hysteria than a planned effort to allay community anxieties.[…] These actions suggest a crowd that was more intolerant and cruel than freedom-loving, and more vengeful than afraid.”

Roos, Dave. “Social Distancing and Quarantine Were Used in Medieval Times to Fight the Black Death.” HISTORY, March 27, 2020. 

  • The essay discusses the first quarantine of July 27, 1377 imposed by the city of Ragusa’s (now Dubrovnik, Croatia) to stop the spread of the Black Death epidemic caused by the bubonic plague. The city imposed a quarantine on all incoming ships and caravans. The essay briefly chronicles how the word “quarantine” comes from the Italian word “quarantino” which is the Italian word for 40, pointing out to 40 days of isolation, a number at the time that had “symbolic and religious significance.” The article also talks about the city of Ragusa’s building of its first plague hospital, a major public health structure requiring significant public investment. These hospitals commonly known as lazaretto were built in major merchant cities to stop the spread of disease. Venice built its lazaretto in 1423.

Patino, Marie (February 11, 2020). “Coronavirus Outbreak Maps Rooted in History.” CityLab.

  • A brief history of the spatial visualization of epidemics and pandemics, a practice that started as early as 1600s but that became institutionalized during the cholera outbreak in London and Europe.Snow’s famous map “overlaid the location of the casualties with the position of water pumps in the city, and from there correctly deducted the water-borne origin of the disease.” Fast forward a couple of centuries, CDC used web-based GSI tools to map the spread of Zika.

Short Form Content

Hartnett, Ken. November 26, 2005. The tragedy of Penikese Island. The Boston Globe.

& Silvia, Joe. August 28, 2019. “The Tragic Story of Massachusetts’ Leper Colony and the ‘Lights of Penikese Island,’ Dr. Frank Parker and Wife Marion. ” New Bedford Guide.

  • Both essays briefly discuss the tragic story of Penikese Island that was purchased by the Massachusetts Commonwealth in 1905 for $25,000 to send away those with leprosy, mostly poor immigrant people- Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, China, Japan, Russian among others. The doctor (Parker), his wife, his staff, and the patients built a colony where many lived for more than a decade. The essays allude to the public and institutional discrimination that the infected patitents endured rendered out-casts (for example, the government for example took away the child that one of the patients delivered and placed him in foster homes on the mainland). The island is now a bird sanctuary.

Kilpatrick, Mary (April 12, 2020). “How Did Society Emerge after 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic? And What Can We Learn about Reopening Ohio after Coronavirus?”

  • Points out to the surge in the number of people infected after the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, and that was due to reopening Ohio soon after “flattening the curve” thus providing a cautionary tale for COVID-19.

Strochlic, Nina & Riley D. Champine (March 27, 2020). “How Some Cities ‘Flattened the Curve’ during the 1918 Flu Pandemic,” History.

  • Provides an overview of the deaths in major US cities during the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918. Through a series of graphs, the essay illustrates how cities that implemented social distancing measures and closures early on were successful in keeping their death rate lower than other cities that did not (like Philadelphia) or ones that opened their economy too soon (like St. Louis).

Lincoln, Toby. “The Urban History That Makes China’s Coronavirus Lockdown Possible | CityMetric,” March 11, 2020. 

  •  Examines everything from economic development imperatives to collectivity as a cultural ethos in China that made a complete lockdown possible.

Onion, Rebecca. “The Disastrous Cordon Sanitaire Used on Honolulu’s Chinatown in 1900.” Slate Magazine, August 15, 2014. 

  • A history in pictures of the implications of the “Cordon Sanitaire” that The Honolulu Board of Health imposed on 10,000 people during the bubonic plague outbreak in 1899-1900.

I.b. Disease, Discrimination, & the Rise of Urban Regulations and Urban Parks

Academic Content

Wald, Priscilla.  “Communicable Americanism: Contagion, Geographic Fictions, and the Sociological Legacy of Robert E. Park.”  American Literary History.  2002.  

  • This article examines American cities in the 1880s and 1890s and engages seminal urban theorists and sociologists like Robert Park, considering their role in a public-health hygienist movement.  This movement was inspired by social reformers like Jacob Riis, but also in eugenics-driven desires for separation and homogeneity in race and social relations and reproduction.  

Crompton, John L. “The Health Rationale for Urban Parks in the Nineteenth Century in the USA.” World Leisure Journal 55, no. 4 (November 2013): 333–46. 

  • “Urban parks in the USA sprang from multiple influences, but the belief that they would contribute to improved health has not previously received detailed attention in the parks literature. They emerged in the industrial cities where squalor and filth characterised living conditions. Taking their lead from peers in the UK, the US medical community believed these conditions created miasmas (obnoxious gases) that were the source of all diseases. Urban parks were perceived to provide oxygenised oases that offered protection against miasmas. Thus, they were viewed by government entities as contributing to reducing societal costs associated with pauperism and lost labour productivity, while individuals viewed parks as offering a defence against disease contagion and epidemics.”

Campbell, Margaret (October 1, 2005). “What Tuberculosis Did for Modernism: The Influence of a Curative Environment on Modernist Design and Architecture.” Medical History 49, no. 4: 463–88.

  • This article chronicles how tuberculosis and the hope for ites cure through sun, air, and light as well as hygiene in general are intrinsic to the rise of modernist architecture and its features. “Architectural modernism based on practical design requirements and supported by the exploration and exploitation of new materials and technologies, such as reinforced concrete and steel-frame construction, was well suited to the fulfilment of a more hygienic lifestyle.” Le Corbusier mentioned tuberculosis as one of the factors influencing some of his architecture design projects.

Long Form Content

Wilford, John Noble. “How Epidemics Helped Shape the Modern Metropolis.” The New York Times, April 15, 2008, sec. Science.

  • This essay discusses the impact of the Cholera epidemic on the city of New York in 1832 when 3515 died out of the 250,000 residents of the city. The city ravaged mostly through the city’s poor especially in Five Points, a poor and crowded neighborhood, where African Americans and immigrant Irish Catholics were living. Like during COVID19, many of the wealthy white families left the city. The epidemic exposes the city’s segregation along class, race and religion. The article touches upon the early application of “mapping in medical investigations,” when later in 1854, Dr. Snow of London, linked the disease to contaminated water by mapping infections in Soho in London and linking them to a public water pump in the area. But the New York victims (both of 1832 and 1849- death in 1849 reached 5071 out of a population of 500,000) did not benefit from this discovery related to clean water in time for its cholera epidemics.

Shah, Sonia. “From Cholera to Zika: What History’s Pandemics Tell Us about the Next Contagion.” Books, Health and History, The New York Academy of Medicine (blog), February 16, 2016. 

  • Very interesting look at the series of contagions and the ways in which they have been handled from an urban health/city management perspective. The author argues that all the epidemics/pandemics that affected New York City, the response has been incremental. The essay has several interesting maps including a fascinating map about this: “The company chartered by New York State to deliver drinking water to the city’s residents—the Manhattan Company, which started a bank now known as JPMorgan Chase—dug their well among the tenements of the notoriously crowded Five Points slum, in what is today part of Chinatown. They delivered the slum’s undoubtedly contaminated groundwater to one third of the city’s residents.”

Nevius, James (March 19, 2020). “New York’s Built Environment Was Shaped by Pandemics.” Curbed NY.  

  • The article argues that “ From yellow fever and cholera to polio and the Spanish flu, the very shape of the city [NYC] has long been dictated by its response to epidemics.”

Short Form Content

Rasenberger, Jim. “CITY LORE; A City in the Time of Scourge.” The New York Times, April 6, 2003, sec. New York. 

  • Provides a brief overview of New York City’s history with the smallpox epidemic over time, starting with the opening of the SmallBox Hospital that was built on Roosevelt Island in 1856 (and still stands there in ruins), the hospital’s demise, and later policies that the city implemented culminating with widespread vaccinations in 1949.

McNeil Jr, Donald G. (August 31, 2009). “Finding a Scapegoat When Epidemics Strike.” The New York Times. 

  • From 2009, about the Swine Flu crisis, discussing why the WHO does not label viruses with geographic monikers anymore, and also goes through the history of ethnic scapegoating during crises.

I.c. Disease and Colonialisms

Academic Content

Peckham, Robert, and David M. Pomfret. Imperial Contagions: Medicine, Hygiene, and Cultures of Planning in Asia. Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

  • This edited volume addresses how disease and its containment shaped spaces under imperial and colonial rules in cities in Asia from mid 19 C to mid 20 C. It focuses on the complexity of the counters that resulted from situated encounters between the colonizer and colonized in the management of disease. The book “argues that no straightforward shift from enclavism to public health occurred. On the contrary, the institutionalization of health and the refashioning of the urban environment were coterminous with the creation of circumscribed spaces, exemplified by the laboratory, wherein privileged bodies-- those of children, scientists and administrators were protected from the threat of contamination. From this perspective, Imperial contagions maintains that the era of colonial public health should perhaps be understood, not in terms of the demise of enclavism, but rather at its radical affirmation.” (p.4)

Chircop, John. “Quarantine Sanitization, Colonialism and the Construction of the ‘Contagious Arab’ in the Mediterranean, 1830s–1900.” Mediterranean Quarantines, 1750–1914: Space, Identity and Power, 2018.

  • “[T]his chapter focuses on the transfer ofWestern medical/hygienist theories and the related sanitary instruments and practices – in this case the quarantine lazaretto system – to various city ports in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean during the nineteenth century. It consequently seeks to make evident the extent to which the conveyance of this Western sanitary technology and set of practices – presented to the local populations as beneficial instruments of modernity – facilitated colonial incursions in the political economies of these countries, most of which – apart from Morocco –were under Ottoman rule.” (p. 199-200).

Kidambi, Prashant. “‘An Infection of Locality’: Plague, Pythogenesis and the Poor in Bombay, c. 1896–1905.” Urban History 31, no. 2 (August 2004): 249–67.

  • This article looks into how the British colonial government targeted Bombay’s urban poor and their neighborhoods during the bubonic plague pandemic in Bombay City in 1896. That was due to how many attributed the microbial origin of the disease to localized conditions of filth and lack of ventilation that were ascribed to the poor slums of Bombay. So the fear that the poor would infect the city’s elite and the rich informed the colonial state’s anti plague offensive against the urban poor.

Lyons, Maryinez. “From ‘Death Camps’ to Cordon Sanitaire: The Development of Sleeping Sickness Policy in the Uele District of the Belgian Congo, 1903-1914.” The Journal of African History 26, no. 1 (1985): 69–91.

  • The article chronicles how Belgain colonial authorities approached the sleeping sickness epidemic (1904-1914) in Belgian Congo (currently DRC) where it was estimated that 500,000 Congolese had died from the disease. It outlines how the management of the disease, focusing on Uele, was another aspect of conquest and exploitation by the colonial rulers of the African populations.

Chandra, Siddharth, and Eva Kassens-Noor.* "The Evolution of Pandemic Influenza: Evidence from India, 1918–19." BMC infectious diseases 14, no. 1 (2014): 510.

  • Fairly dry epidemiological examination of data and discussions of the “severity, velocity, duration and timing” of the 1918 fall flu wave and mortality across geography and cities in India. The fall wave began in Mumbai and radiated outward, in part carried by soldiers, but the severity slowed as it spread; they hypothesize that a combination of viral mutations and spatial factors (e.g. rurality) may have played into the how and where and when of the virus; that understanding past pandemics across large geographies outside of the ‘west’ can be useful. (*included in part here because the second author is an urban planning assistant professor at Michigan State, cited in many of the current articles re cities and pandemics.)

Additional useful links:

Ibn Khaldoun. Muqaddima. (1377). Translated by Franz Rosenthal 1967, 2005. Princeton. 267-8.  2 page selection of assertions linking the shape and planning of cities with air and fevers and illness.

Inca Garcilazo de la Vega. Comentarios Reales de los Inca. 1609, p. 191-192. Emece Editoriales online. One of the very few detailed first-person narratives -of a mestizo- from Latin America about the conquest. Pages 191 and 192 discuss the spread of the plague in cities.

Newitz, Annalee. “Opinion | What Social Distancing Looked Like in 1666.” The New York Times, March 29, 2020, sec. Opinion. 

Davidson, Justin. “The Return of Fear in New York.” Intelligencer, April 13, 2020. 

II. Urban Planning and the Spatiality of the Crisis

This section builds directly on the Urban History of Pandemics content, underscoring the extent to which public health imperatives have long shaped urban form, density, and planning in cities.  These imperatives include hygienist movements and their desire for open green space and fresh air (Wald, 200) but also more sinister approaches that include ethnoracial differentiation and segregation (Shah, 2010; Hendrickson and Muro, 2020) and stigma and criminalization (Hoppe, 2018).  Indeed, recent research at the intersection of urban planning and public health reveal the ways planners continue to create and recreate geographies of inequality, for example in unequal access to food stores (supermarkets instead of smaller grocery/convenience stores), places to exercise, and safety by racial and socioeconomic group (Hutson et al., 2012; Lovasi et al., 2009).  Yet there is hope in this section: previous pandemics structurally reshaped how planners conceived of and conceptualized cities, and this pandemic could well do the same.  We are already seeing that the experience of the COVID-19 crisis depends greatly on one’s neighborhood, sector of the economy, race, and class (Davies, 2020; Lopez, 2020).  Might planners be able to leverage this crisis as an opportunity to pursue a development model that is more equitable and just?  Such challenges are magnified in Global South contexts like Karachi, Pakistan and elsewhere, where grinding daily poverty and high density has traditionally meant a reliance on extended kinship networks and strong in-person ties (Null and Smith, 2020; Karachi Urban Lab, 2020).  Alternative, does the coronavirus crisis mean the end of Global North high-density city living?  Brasuell (2020) and Kimmelman (2020) take such possibilities seriously.  

Academic Content

Hoffman, Danny. “A Crouching Village: Ebola and the Empty Gestures of Quarantine in Monrovia.” City & Society 28, no. 2 (2016): 246–264.

  • In Hoffman’s article on quarantining during the Ebola outbreak in Monrovia, he discusses how community responses in times of crises reveal the “multi-layered politics of space.” Fear and the impulse to flee, he argues, do not deviate from the traditional logics of urbanisms, “but rather throw[s] [existing political] processes into sharp relief” illuminating deeply rooted systems of inequality. If Hoffman’s observations during the Ebola outbreak hold true for the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus will continue to strip down and lay bare the nations’ systems of inequality.

Hoppe, Trevor.  “Controlling Typhoid Mary.”  In: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness.  University of California Press, 2018.  

  • In this rich book chapter, Hoppe compares the 2014 ebola outbreak with the HIV and typhoid crisis of earlier decades and centuries and argues that key dynamics of race, class, sexual orientation, and ethnicity determine the extent to which we take public health and infectious disease seriously, and how governments and cities alike respond, with dramatic consequences for populations dealing with illness.  

Hutson, Malo André et al.  “Metropolitan Fragmentation and Health Disparities: Is There a Link?”  

Milbank Quarterly. 2012 90(1): 187–207.

  • In this article, Hutson et al. find that an increase in metropolitan area fragmentation (in terms of the number of governmental entities across a functional economic region) is associated with greater racial differences in mortality between blacks and whites for both children and working-age adults. Although increasing fragmentation is associated with a higher mortality rate for blacks, it is not associated with a higher mortality rate for whites. Argue the authors:  “These findings suggest that research is needed to understand how governance can positively or negatively influence a population's health and create conditions that generate or exacerbate health disparities.”

Lovasi, Gina S. et al. “Built Environments and Obesity in Disadvantaged Populations.”  Epidemiologic Reviews.  2009.  

  • The authors review published scientific literature and argue from this review that (1)  the built environment correlates of obesity or related health behaviors within one or more disadvantaged groups, or (2) that the relative exposure these groups had to potentially obesogenic built environment characteristics. The research team goes on to argue that “food stores (supermarkets instead of smaller grocery/convenience stores), places to exercise, and safety” might have the greatest impact for disadvantaged groups, in addition to larger change in the built environment (land use, density).  

Hooper, Michael.  “Flatulence, Filth, and Urban Form: Do Primes for Hygiene Influence Perceptions of Urban Density?”  Journal of Planning Education and Research.  2018.  

  • Hooper asks whether “primes” - or heuristic cues - for hygiene might influence our perceptions of urban density.  Hopper ultimately argues that urban-density perceptions are not malleable, at least with respect to hygiene primes. These results mean that a wide array of subconscious-oriented interventions to modify urban density perceptions may not work as intended.  

Long Form Content  

Hendrickson, Clara and Mark Muro.  Will Covid-19 Rebalance America’s Uneven Economic Geography? Don’t Bet On It.”  Brookings.  13 April 2020.  

  • Looking at regional economic disparities in America today, the authors argue that “the pandemic might intensify the unevenness of America’s divergent economy, with disturbing implications.”  Here, the authors are referring to knowledge-economy regions on the economic vanguard of the country’s growth, and argue that these few superstar cities and regions (Boston, NYC, Bay Area) may see growth even as old manufacturing and service regions, already lagging behind before the crisis, will struggle.  

Karachi Urban Lab.  “Why the Covid-19 crisis is an urban crisis.”  Prism.  14 April 2020.  

  • The authors consider COVID-19 guidelines and public health responses in the context of Karachi, Pakistan, a metropolitan area of 16 million people.  They argue that in Karachi approximately 60% of the population lives in informal settlements with limited or no access to clean water and sanitation, and that intense poverty and a need for daily work for many to survive may lead to intense political and social unease.  

Valentino-DeVries, Jennifer, Denise Lu and Gabriel J.X. Dance.  “Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury.”  The New York Times.  3 April 2020.  

  • Drawing on the case of Chicago and nationwide cell-phone location data on who is quarantining at home and who must continue to work daily, The New York Times finds, perhaps unsurprisingly, striking correlations with race and class.  

Shenker, Jack.  “Cities After Coronavirus: How Covid-19 Could Radically Alter Urban Life.”  The Guardian.  26 March 2020.  

  • Shenker draws on cities historically, from Athens to London, arguing that public health and pandemics have long shaped urban form and planning.  This current crisis may similarly reshape urban form, he argues.  For one, Shenker questions whether agglomeration effects will continue to matter, if “proximity to one’s job is no longer a significant factor in deciding where to live, for example.”  Moreover, he argues that another  potential impact of coronavirus might be an intensification of digital infrastructure in our cities.  

Keil, Roger, Creighton Connolly, and S. Harris Ali.  “Outbreaks Like Coronavirus Start in and Spread from the Edges of Cities.”  The Conversation.  17 February 2020.  

  • Keil and Ali channel their extensive spatial and social research on Toronto’s SARS outbreak to examine the multi-nodal geography of COVID-19 disease transmission. To study the spread of disease today, the authors argue, “we have to look beyond airports to the European automobile and parts industry that has taken root in central China; Chinese financed belt-and-road infrastructure across Asia, Europe and Africa; and in regional transportation hubs like Wuhan.”  In other words, tertiary cities, off-site techno-infrastructure, and other “peripheral” spatial sites may well be just as important to COVID’s global journey as traditional global hubs.  

Short Form Content

MacArthur, Aaron.  “Urban Planners Urging Major Rethink Due to Covid-19 Pandemic.”  Global News Canada. April 12, 2020.

  • When we do finally emerge from the pandemic, argues MacArthur in this video news segment, “urban planners have dire warnings about what will happen if we don’t adapt to how we interact and move about.”  Indeed, there are concerns about a traffic catastrophe due to residual fears about close contact.

Davies, Alex.  “The Pandemic Could Be an Opportunity to Remake Cities.”  Wired. April 14, 2020.  

  • Davies ponders whether the sharp reductions in traffic and car accidents, and sharp increases in pedestrians and cyclists, might mean a new spatial and transportation future for cities with a less prominent role for the automobile. He draws on an impressive suite of global cases in this essay.  

Lopez, Monique.  “Our Role as Planners During a Pandemic.”  Pueblo Planning.  23 March 2020.  

  • Lopez examines her local context in Los Angeles of participatory planning praxis, meaning co-planning and co-design at the neighborhood level.  For example, she considers Ofelia, a street vendor in MacArther Park, Pam, who is unhoused and relies upon Metro bus and train service for safe shelter, and Jimmy who is a small business owner of a bike shop in historic Filipinotown. Lopez is thinking about the “digital divide.” the need for low-income communities to handle childcare and monthly expenses, and problematizes the roles of city planners for times like this.  

Green, Jonathan.  “Audio: The Urban Politics of COVID-19.”  ABC Blueprint.  28 March 2020.  

  • In this ~20 minute podcast, Gree interviews Keil and Ali and discusses the spatial and urban dynamics of COVID-19, as well as “how we got here” and “how we might get out.”  Through this conversation, we learn that “our cities and their built fabric are being transformed in ways unimaginable only a month ago: from the more prosaic adaptations like automated traffic signals in Sydney's CBD, to the more extreme and starker expression of fear and isolation that now reign - eerily empty public spaces, makeshift hospitals, and the very strange reconfigurations or urban social life.”  The conversation ends with questions: what might cities and our urban vision look like by the end of the COVID-19 crisis, and what might be some ways to promote a vision that minimizes tragedy?  

Kimmelman, Michael. “Can City Life Survive Coronavirus?”  The New York Times.  23 March 2020.  

  • Kimmelman argues in this short piece that the coronavirus outbreak has the potential to alter “our most basic ideas about community and, in particular, urban life.”  He draws on historical accounts showing how cities emerged thousands of years ago for economic and industrial reasons — technological leaps that produced a surplus of agricultural goods and led to urban migration.  Cities also grew to fulfill deep human social and spiritual needs, argues Kimmelman. “Pandemics prey on this relentlessly. They are anti-urban. They exploit our impulse to congregate,” Kimmelman argues.  Drawing on research by NYU’s Eric Klinenberg, and case studies from 9/11 and the 1968 urban rebellions, Kimmelman posits that this crisis, too, will reshape our cities.   

Bliss, Laura, and Kriston Capps.  “Are Suburbs Safer from Coronavirus?  Probably Not.”  CityLab.  31 March 2020.  

  • Bliss and Capps provide great read on the rise of new putatively ‘rural’ and suburban “coronavirus safe houses,” an industry catering to wealthy young professionals and families.  Ultimately, however, they argue that these outlets are foolish:  “urban density does play a role in disease transmission. But rural areas and suburban sprawl aren’t necessarily safer spaces to ride out the Covid-19 crisis,” they argue.  

Romero, Simone.  “The Trump administration has sped up construction of a wall on the southern border, arguing that it will help limit the spread of the virus from Mexico.”  The New York Times.  31 March 2020.

  • Romero shows how the Trump Administration is continuing their immigration agenda and focuses on the border wall with Mexico.  Obviously, public health experts say such a barrier would not mitigate the outbreaks already occurring in every state. The events raise broader questions about governance and physical barriers, like walls, in preventing the pandemic in a fluid world with labor and commodity interdependencies.  

Pandolfi, Elizabeth.  “In The Age of Coronavirus, Libraries Are Getting Books Into People’s Hands — Without Touching.”  NextCity.  24 March 2020.  

  • Pandolfi looks at the varying roles that public libraries are playing in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.  She writes that “Live-streaming, increasing audiobook and ebook access, and hosting book discussions on social media” are among the many methods that many of us probably think of most immediately — but online services aren’t the only thing that librarians are turning to in this unusual time.  They are also experimenting with curbside pickup and home-delivery options, especially for seniors.  

Null, Schuyler and Hillary Smith.  “COVID-19 Could Affect Cities for Years. Here Are 4 Ways They’re Coping Now.”  World Resources Institute.  20 March 2020.  

  • The authors acknowledge that cities are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis and argue that there are currently four ways cities are responding to the deep challenges of the outbreak: restricting access, fortifying public transit systems, exploring alternatives to public transit, and providing more radical data transparency.  Their exploration is global, with a central focus on high-poverty, Global South cities.  

Sharkey, Patrick.  “In Coronavirus, the U.S. Faces a Problem It Can’t Fix by Segregation.”  CityLab.  24 March 2020.  

  • This article, written by a scholar of neighborhood effects in sociology, Patrick Sharkey, explores coronavirus, segregation, density, and the city line.  America has long turned to municipal boundaries to divide, segregate, and separate wealthy and poor, and black and white communities, but the pandemic is only as strong as our weakest collective link, Sharkey argues.  As such, the only way we might be able to overcome the deep public health and economic challenges the US will face will be a frank engagement with our urban and racial histories.  

III. Political Economy, Labor, and (De)-Development  

The Coronavirus crisis has reshuffled the hierarchy of labor value. Low-wage, precarious workers—grocery store workers, home health aides, delivery truck drivers, and others—have been deemed “essential” to the functioning of the economy. They are showered with praise (but not hazard pay) along with more traditionally valorized workers like doctors, nurses, and first responders. Affective labor—the highly gendered and increasingly commodified work of social reproduction—has also been brought to the fore, as people are forced to take on essential ‘care work’ that they might normally outsource. All of this has forced a reckoning of sorts: the relationship between the ‘use-value’ of certain labor, and the ‘exchange value’ ascribed to it, has never seemed more warped. Workers in ‘essential industries’ have responded with strikes and other labor action, while others have called for an urgent return to a strong, social-democratic welfare state. Yet, a tension exists between calls to leverage the crisis to reward work more equitably and calls to think about a future beyond work altogether. The articles and resources in this section describe that debate and more. They illuminate the past structural conditions that led up to this moment, the appalling disparities and inequities of present worklife, and the future possibilities that might emerge out of the crisis.  

Academic content

Hardt, Michael. Affective Labor. Boundary 2. 1999

  • Hardt describes the transition from material labor to ‘immaterial labor,’ labor that produces or manages information flows and ‘affective labor’ concerned with social reproduction. Affect labor has long been done (uncompensated) by women (which continues), but it is increasingly constitutive of capitalism itself.

Millar, Kathleen. Towards a Critical Politics of Precarity. Sociology Compass. 2017.

  • Interrogates the concept of ‘precarity’ and asks us to consider “for whom is precarity new?” Might the denunciation of precarity actually valorize wage-labor and prevent us from pushing beyond it to demand wholly new forms of work, labor, and citizenship?

Long Form Content

Jaffe, Sara. Social Reproduction and the Pandemic, with Tithi Bhattacharya

  • An interview with affective labor scholar Tithi Bhattacharya about what Coronavirus reveals about social reproduction, carework, and “affective labor.”

Lind, Michael. The Tom and Daisy Virus. Tablet. (16 April 2020)

  • An article arguing that while the immediate effect of the crisis is exacerbating longstanding class divides, in the long run the crisis may hurt a particular segment of the upper class: creditors will have to take a significant ‘haircut’, real-estate will lose value, and the economy may shift from FIRE industries back to productive industries.

International Labor Organization. ILO Monitor: Covid-19 and the World of Work: Second Edition. (7 April 2020)

  • ILO report on the global state of work during the crisis

Wallace, Rob; Liebman, Alex; Chaves, Luis Fernando; Wallace, Rodrick. Covid-19 and Circuits of Capital. Monthly Review. (27 March 2020)

  • An article articulating an eco-socialist analysis of the crisis focusing on how it rocketed along global circuits of agribusiness and capital. It argues for an ecosocialist response that “disalienates” us from the earth and frees us from capital.

Winant, Gabriel. Coronavirus and Chronopolitics | Online Only. N + 1 Magazine. (23 March 2020)

  • An essay focusing on the political economy of nursing labor. It argues that the crisis is exacerbated by neoliberal restructuring of the health services industry which stretched nurses to the limit even before the Coronavirus.

Sample, Hilary. “Recasting Figures: Choreographies of Maintenance.” In Harvard Design Magazine: No. 46 / No Sweat, 134–40.

  • A short text accompanied with a fascinating illustration of the laborers who maintain our cities. The illustration focuses on the area around W135th in Harlem, NYC. The authors describe their detailed illustration as following: “the figures here are drawn larger than the buildings suggesting the importance of the maintainer.” Long invisible, these workers became the essential workers that maintained our lives during COVID-19 and such illustrations are necessary to bring to the foreground all the underpaid invisible labor that we have taken for granted.

Short Form Content

Chen, Marty. To die from hunger or the virus: An all too real dilemma for the poor in India (and elsewhere). Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing Blog. (3 April 2020).

  • An overview of the impact of India’s national lockdown on poor, migrant workers there. Contains links to other articles on Coronavirus and the informal economy, along with policy recommendations

Chulov, Martin.  “Migrant Workers Bear Brunt of Coronavirus Pandemic in Gulf.” The Guardian, (April 19, 2020)

  • An essay addressing the plight of migrant workers in the Gulf countries, who are stranded in high-density dormitories and unable to return home.

Cohen, Patricia. Coronavirus Crisis Underlines Weak Spots in US Economic System. The New York Times. (17 April 2020).

  • An article underlining the fragility of the post-2008 recovery, especially for low-wage workers. Low-unemployment figures hid low-wage growth, increasingly unstable scheduling, and rising costs, all of which made American workers even less prepared to fare a disruption like Coronavirus.

Faux, Zeke; Herblin, David; Munsterman. The Crash of the $8.5 Billion Global Flower Trade. Bloomberg Businessweek. (17 April 2020)

  • A look at how Coronavirus has affected the fresh flower industry--an extraordinary global trade which spans multiple continents.

Gambrell, Dorothy. How Coronavirus Affects U.S. Workforce by Income and Industry. Bloomberg Businessweek. (13 March 2020)

  • A series of graphs on the American workforce and how prepared they are for the crisis by sector

Nonko, Emily. National Network Emerges to Feed Frontline Covid-19 Workers. Next City. (7 April 2020)

  • A brief article focusing on grassroots initiatives in Portland, Boston, and elsewhere to “feed the frontline”

Olson, Mie. Denmark: How a High Tax State Responds to Coronavirus. EU Observer. (23 March 2020)

  • An article providing an overview of Danish economic policy in the wake of the crisis. The Danish state undertook one of the most expensive economic packages in the EU (as a percentage of national GDP) and will cover 75% of salary during the crisis period for salaried workers and 90% for hourly workers.

Robertson, Campbell; Gelboff, Robert. How Millions of Women Became the Most Essential Workers in America. The New York Times. (18 April 2020)

  • An article describing new data showing that women disproportionately work in ‘essential’ jobs and are therefore placed at higher-risk of contracting Coronavirus

Samaha, Albert; Baker, Katie. Smithfield Foods Is Blaming “Living Circumstances In Certain Cultures” For One Of America’s Largest COVID-19 Clusters. Buzzfeed News. (20 April 2020)

  • An in-depth investigative report of the Coronavirus crisis at Smithfield Foods’ meatpacking plant and management’s attempts to blame workers for contracting the virus.

Scheiber, Noam; Conger, Kate. Strikes at Instacart and Amazon Over Coronavirus Health Concerns. The New York TImes. (30 March 2020)

  • A discussion of labor action at “essential” workplaces

Scruggs, Gregory. Seattle Turns Soda Tax Revenue into Emergency Grocery Vouchers. Next City. (30 March 2020)

  • An overview of Seattle’s ‘soda tax’ battle and a new program to funnel soda tax revenues into emergency relief

Flores, Lori. “Farmworkers Are Essential, but Their Rights Don’t Reflect That.” Food52, April 17, 2020.

  • Deemed “essential” workers during the pandemic, farmworkers have long been subjected to hazardous transportation, housing, sanitation, and working conditions ripe for contagion. It’s not a matter of if food workers will get sick en masse and our food chain will be thrown into chaos; it’s a matter of when. There has always been a public health risk in the ways that our nation’s food industry has operated on the backs of under-compensated and overworked people, but COVID-19 throws this danger into greater relief.

Other Resources

AFL-CIO Solidarity Center. Media Mentions and News. (10 April 2020).

  • A news roundup with global articles on labor and work from the AFL-CIO’s international solidarity arm

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)  The Center for Constitutional Rights Stands with the People Against the Corporate-Dominated Coronavirus Relief Package: The CARES Act Reaffirms a Deadly and Unjust Status Quo. (27 March 2020)

  • A press release on the CARES Act

Covid Bail Out NYC. Website.

  • An advocacy campaign for a ‘people’s bailout’ in NYC

Harvard Ash Center for Democracy. American Workers, American Economy, and the Struggle Against COVID-19 (8 April 2020)

  • A livestream of a study group with summary and video

Unknown. Coronavirus ED Impact/Response

  • A database of economic development related articles assembled by planners

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). Podcast.

  • Podcast episode on how informal workers are faring in the pandemic

IV. Shelter, Housing, Homelessness

Global ‘shelter in place’ orders render ‘home’ as a space of refuge and in so doing reveal the deep contradictions and inequality of these spaces. Echoed with refrains tinged with despair: “How can you shelter in place if you do not have shelter?” (Alvarez 2020) “So “the household” is figured as a space of protection, but that is hardly true for many people” (Butler 2020). “When a home does not exist, what does self-quarantine mean?” (Khosravi 2020). Context from scholars on housing policy under neoliberalism give context for how we have arrived here (Rolnik, Madden & Marcuse). The contradictions and the crisis of housing exposed by the virus are not evidence of a broken system, but rather of the effects of housing under capitalism. Secondary themes including housing as a prerequisite for accessing other rights, and the possibility and renewed importance of a right to housing.

Press coverage describes the differential impacts of the coronavirus crisis for unhoused people, and those with precarious housing. The astonishing injustices faced by unhoused peoples during this time is appalling. However, there are also a growing number of examples of housing takeovers and other activist efforts that, as part of longer housing struggles, have been given new urgency through the crisis.

Academic Content

Rolnik, Raquel. “Late Neoliberalism: The Financialization of Homeownership and Housing Rights.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 37, no. 3 (2013)

  • In this paper Rolnik traces out the key strategies of neoliberal housing policy beginning with a 1993 World Bank report. She pays attention to similarities and differences in how these transformations have played out in the U.S. and Europe and in locations in the global south. A strong introduction to the impact (materially and conceptually) of these policies, Rolnik argues that this period is characterized by the abandonment of “the conceptual meaning of housing as a social good...a means to distribute wealth” and a shift to a “new political economy centered on housing as a means to wealth, [where] the value is the possibility of creating more value” (1059).

Resistances, political movements for housing, and the limit of ‘rights’ discourses:

Hoover, Joe. “The Human Right to Housing and Community Empowerment: Home Occupation, Eviction Defence and Community Land Trusts.” Third World Quarterly 36, no. 6 (June 3, 2015).

  • In this paper Hoover discusses the limits and potentials of discourses of rights in relation to housing. Through an ethnography of the actions of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, community organizations in Washington, DC, Los Angeles Community Action Network and other grassroots organizations mobilizing for housing justice.


Algoed, Line, and María E. Hernández Torrales. “The Land Is Ours. Vulnerabilization and Resistance in Informal Settlements in Puerto Rico: Lessons from the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust.Radical Housing Journal 1 (2019).

  • Many activists are making calls today to resist the takeover of distressed properties by speculative real estate actors and private equity as was seen in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, across the globe and in the U.S.). This article on the process of creating a Community Land Trust in Puerto Rico offers important lessons for how to enact more just futures that resist purely market driven logics in housing.

Long Form Content

Madden, David and Peter Marcuse. “The Permanent Crisis of Housing.” Jacobin Magazine. (October 2016)

  • In this essay Madden and Marcuse take up, and also to problematize, the concept of ‘housing crisis.’ They discuss conditions of global housing precarity however urge caution against an uncritical use of the rhetoric of crisis, which they argue was brought about largely by a middle class threatened by housing insecurity for the first time in the aftermath of 2008, but describes a constant condition for the poor and working class. Instead they argue that “housing crisis is not a result of the system breaking down but of the system working as it is intended.”

Eliza Griswold. “How do you shelter in place when you don’t have a home?The New Yorker. (March 26, 2020)

  • Essay on the transformation of daily life at and around a free clinic serving unhoused residents of Philadelphia. It follows Arnetta Ferguson as she creates a space to sleep outside of the shelter, waits in line for hours in hopes of getting a shower

Alvarez, Ana Cecilia. “Stay at Home: How can you shelter in place if you do not have shelter?N+1 Magazine Online. (April 13, 2020)

  • Dispatches on housing access and policy through meetings and actions taken with the Los Angeles Tenants Union. This union is unique in its expansive definition of tenants as those who do not have control over their housing, and thus includes renters, incarcerated, unhoused people and others who do not have agency in their housing situations.

Short Form Content

Han, Kirsten. “Singapore's migrant workers on front line of coronavirus shutdown.” Al Jazeera. (April 8, 2020)

  • Dispatch on the conditions of migrant workers confined to dormitories on lockdown in Singapore. The government has enacted a separate set of policies for the general public and for migrants residing in dormitories.

Appleford, Steve. “In protest and for personal survival, homeless moms seize houses amid coronavirus crisis.” Fast Company. (March 21, 2020)

  • Article on, and interview with, Martha Escudero who with the help of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment took possession of a vacant state-owned property in Los Angeles just after stay at home orders were issued by LA and the state of California. Inspired by the actions of Moms 4 Housing movement in Oakland, the group has thus far successfully occupied the house.

Goodyear, Dana. “The Corona Virus Spurs a Movement of People Reclaiming Vacant Homes.” The New Yorker. (March 28, 2020)

  • Short essay on a second housing takeover in L.A. Focuses on a family of five who had been living in a studio apartment (with rent taking over fifty percent of their income) and before that on the streets.

Weaver, Cea and Amy Goodman. “#CancelRent: Tenants Demand Rent Relief & Organize Strikes as Unemployment Surges Due to COVID-19.” Democracy Now. (April 1, 2020)

  • This interview summarizes current activist and advocacy efforts centered in New York State. Housing Justice for All with a coalition of tenants rights organizations is leading the call for a statewide rent strike.

Howey, Brian. “During Coronavirus Outbreak S.F. Will Continue to Seize Homeless People's Property.San Francisco Public Press. (March 11, 2020)

  • Article from early moments of virus presence in U.S. reporting on the uninterrupted plans of the Department of Public Works in San Francisco to continue to confiscate unattended property within homeless encampments in the city.

Klar, Rebecca. Vulnerable homeless people moved to hotels amid coronavirus pandemic.” The Hill. (April 13, 2020)  

  • Summary of city and state actions to open empty hotels for unhoused residents.

Koran, Mario. “Las Vegas parking lot turned into 'homeless shelter' with social distancing markers.” The Guardian. (March 30, 2020)

  • Article and photographs of social distancing parking lots created as a solution for ‘protecting’ unhoused residents of Las Vegas from rapid spread of coronavirus.

Beckett, Lois. “After outrage over homeless sleeping in parking lot, Vegas now touts tented Covid-19 center.The Guardian. (April 16, 2020)

  • In a follow up to the article above, this describes the new solution to sheltering unhoused residents of Las Vegas: cots divided by curtains inside of tent structures.

Ramos, Howard, Alan Walks, and Jill L Grant. “Coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to create affordable citiesThe Conversation. (April 1, 2020)

  • Policy-focused article looking at the links between inequality and gentrification and neoliberal urban policy in Canada that argues for concrete actions towards remaking urban housing in response to the crisis.

Khosravi, Shahram. When home does not exist, what does self-quarantine mean: street children in Tehran.” University of Oxford Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. (March 31, 2020)

  • Academic blog post about Hamed a young undocumented street vendor working in Tehran and the hardship faced by other migrants like him. The post describes the double hardship of being prevented from working, excluded from state assistance, and living in unsafe and precarious housing.

Harress, Christopher. “As pandemic continues, homeless find themselves on the fringes of (April 11, 2020)

  • Chronicle of daily patterns for unhoused residents of Mobile Alabama and new actions being taken by social service organizations to try to support them.

New York State Assembly. New York State Assembly Bill A10224A.

  • A NYS Assembly bill to suspend rent for 90 days for those who have suffered a loss of income in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Tenants would not be required to pay any rent waived, and no late fees would be issued during such a time period.

V. Urban Governance, Governmentality, and Political Theory

This section opens with a provocation about the broader changes in political economy over the past thirty years that have decentered a robust and functional public sector with a dispersed dispositif of multi-sector agents ordering, managing, and regulating cities and spaces (Harvey 1989: 3-17).  Such transitions have not rendered hegemonic power less present, but rather less visible and more opaque.  Key to enforcing governmentality of people and spaces, according to Foucault, are strategies of bio-power and biopolitics that surveil the human body and human life itself (Foucault, 1978).  Yet the COVID crisis exposes deep paradoxes and contradictions in the contemporary capitalist governance order: business as usual dictates that a subject be productive and surplus producing, in the name of ‘human capital’; this homo oeconomicus has no place in a public health crisis that demands of us to be socially distant (Brown, 2015; Davis, 2020).  Therefore, in this section we engage how states of emergency and exception are leading to unobstructed and unchecked governmental force (Maira, Agamben) even as COVID exposes deep, structural instabilities and unsustainabilities inherent to our neoliberal capitalist order (Davis 2020; Harvey, 2020).  Yet given this structural set of background conditions, this section nonetheless offers guidance and provides resources for how governments might respond to the crisis, whether in terms of providing mental health resources to its own public-sector employees (Ash Center, 2020) or in preventing anti-immigrant and racist sentiment from further spreading (Keil and Ali, 2007).  Countries that are equipped to withstand this crisis with the least collateral damage are not necessarily democracies, argues Fukuyama (2020), but are those with strong, independent institutions, the capacity for legitimacy around data-driven decision-making, and collective interpersonal trust.  

Academic Content

Harvey, David.  “From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban

Governance in Late Capitalism.” Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography.  1989.

  • Harvey differentiates urban governance from municipal government:  urban governance represents “the power to organize space derive[d] from a whole complex of forces mobilized by diverse social agents,” not a monolithic technocratic public sector.  Urban governance, in other words, represents a multi-sector apparatus of actors from the private sector, civil society, and philanthropic and academic sectors, as well as the public sector.  Harvey argues that since the 1970s and 1980s power has grown more disperse and opaque, and as a result less accountable.  

Foucault, Michel (Trans. Graham Burchell).  “11 January 1978” and “5 April 1978.”  Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège De France.  1978.  

  • In these seminal lectures by Michel Foucault, he outlines key conceptions of bio-power and bio-politics, especially relevant concepts for the age of coronavirus.  Foucault also considers the apparatus (dispositif) of security and discipline that give rise to what he calls “governmentality.”  Foucault looks in particular at the dispositif apparatus of the treatment of leprosy, plague, and smallpox.  In his April lecture, Foucault elaborates on governmentality and considers “the new art of government.”  

Brown, Wendy.  “Political Rationality and Governance” in Undoing the Demos:

Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution.  2015.  

  • Brown considers neoliberalism as a “political rationality” or “governing rationality,” drawing on Foucault and arguing that it is a particular “regime of power-knowledge” that organizes truths.  Indeed, this regime also works to “structure life and activity as a whole” create a specific type of subject, someone brown calls Homo Oeconomicus (a rational self-interest individual, “economic man”).  

Long Form Content

Afrasiabi, Kaveh.  “Foucault And The Politics Of Coronavirus Pandemic.”  Eurasia Review.  12 March 2020.  

  • Drawing on Foucault’s theories, Afrasiabi questions geopolitics, the public/private line, biopolitics, and state authority.  What does the control, management, and regulation of population mean for this moment, and how do approaches in Asia differ from the West?  

Connolly, John.  “Global Crisis Leadership for Disease‐Induced Threats: One Health and Urbanisation.”  Global Policy.  19 March 2020.

  • This academic paper engages the animal/human interface in urban living and how human/insects/animals disease transmission (zoonotic pathogen) can be designed as biological weapons, and have geopolitical and governmental consequences.  Connolly promotes the concept of “One Health” that unites urban planning and public health governmental approaches.  

Keil, Roger and Ali, Harris.  “Governing the Sick City: Urban Governance in the Age of Emerging Infectious Disease.”  Antipode.  7 December 2007.  

  • In this academic journal article, the authors examine the case of Toronto, Canada’s 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.  The authors argue based on this case that we need to re-conceptualize urban governance to be something “more centrally concerned with questions of widespread disease, life and death and the construction of new internal boundaries and regulations.”  They argue that social cohesion and economic competitiveness alone are insufficient urban governance concepts, and that “globalization seems to suggest the breakdown of some traditional scalar incisions such as national boundaries in a post‐Westphalian environment.”

Keil, Roger and Ali, Harris.  “Racism is a Weapon of Mass Destruction: SARS and the Social Fabric of Urban Multiculturalism.”  In Networked Disease: Emerging Infections in the Global City (Edited by S. Harris Ali and Roger Keil).  2008.  

  • This book chapter interrogates the Toronto 2003 SARS epidemic as it relates to racism and in particular anti-Asian discrimination, and leverages a Latourian material framework to argue that “biopower is enmeshed in a larger context of societal relations (actor-networks, if you will), where racism is one, multiculturalism another mode of regulation.”  

Davis, Mike.  “The Coronavirus Crisis Is a Monster Fueled by Capitalism.”  In These Times.  25 March 2020.  

  • In this piece, Davis examines how coronavirus exposes longstanding structural inequalities inherent to our system of late capitalist political economy.  Davis is particularly concerned about the majority of the Global South population who live in slums / informal settlements, often cheek by jowl day to day.  

Harvey, David.  “Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19, by David Harvey.”  Jacobin.    19 March 2020.  

  • In a similar vein to Davis, Harvey provides offbeat commentary on capitalism and political economy in this moment of pandemic.  Harvey includes further details on the paradoxes of over- and under-accumulation and the endless need for capitalism to find frontiers for a cycle of “production, realization (consumption), distribution, and reinvestment.”  The crisis of coronavirus will also be a crisis of capital accumulation, argues Harvey.  

Wallace, Rob et al.  “COVID-19 and the Circuits of Capital: A Review.”  The Monthly Review.  27 March 2020.  

  • This multi-author article summarizes the current state of the COVID-19 crisis and engages the widely cited Imperial College paper proposing an 18-month + timeline for the crisis to abate and noting the political economic consequences.  The authors argue that “the failures [of the USA’s inadequate COVID response] were actually programmed decades ago as the shared commons of public health were simultaneously neglected and monetized.  A country captured by a regimen of individualized, just-in-time epidemiology—an utter contradiction—with barely enough hospital beds and equipment for normal operations, is by definition unable to marshal the resources necessary to pursue a China brand of suppression.”  

Fukuyama, Francis.  “The Thing That Determines a Country’s Resistance to the Coronavirus.”  The Atlantic.  30 March 2020.   

  • Fukuyama writes in The Atlantic about whether democracies or authoritarian states are handling the pandemic better.  His argument is that whether a country is a democracy is inchoate.  It is not about regime type, but about state capacity, a nimble civil service, and collective (interpersonal) trust in each other and in government that will determine successful or failed responses.  On these counts, the US is not expected to fare well...

Jenkinson, Clay.  “Thomas Jefferson, Epidemics and His Vision for American Cities.”  Governing Magazine.  1 April 2020.  

  • This article examines how Jefferson’s rural agrarian vision for American cities and farmland was inspired, in part, by public health rationales and concerns about the plague after the 1790s in Philadelphia.  The article engages primary source letters of Jefferson about the epidemic.  

Ren, Xuefei.  "The Quarantine of a Megacity: China’s Struggle Over the Coronavirus Epidemic.”  International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR).  4 February 2020.  

  • Ren writes about Wuhan from Harbin (in China’s Northeast) and examines questions of governmentality in China as it relates to the quarantine of a 50-million person functional economic region.  Ren argues that China has invoked both premodern governmentalities in response to the pandemic (limiting movement, quarantining, social distancing) and postmodern responses (using the latest biopolitical and digital technologies to order and regulate citizen movement).  

Short Form Content

Gully, Andrew.  “Coronavirus In The City: A Q&A On The Catastrophe Confronting The Urban Poor.”  The New Humanitarian.  1 April 2020.  

  • In this roundtable conversation, Gully interviews Robert Muggah, principal of The SecDev Group and co-founder of the Igarapé Institute, a think tank focused on urban innovation that has worked with the World Health Organisation to map pandemic threats.  Gully and Muggah take a global approach to investigating the pandemic and argue that: (1) COVID-19 is exposing the social inequalities (especially for the roughly 1.2 billion people who live in informal settlements); (2) there has not been major investment in preparing megacities cities for pandemics; (3) COVID-19’s most significant threat may be from the political and economic fallout; and (4) rapid urbanisation has shifted the front lines of many crises to cities, rather than rural areas. They argue that aid groups have been slow to adjust.

Moseley, William.  “How will COVID-19 affect Africa’s food systems?”  African Arguments.  25 March 2020.

  • Moseley, a professor of geography, argues that “In short, there’s no particular reason to expect Africa’s food supplies to be significantly affected as a direct result of the pandemic.”  But he does offer a number of cautions, including about debt service and ongoing concerns around desertification, security, and the public health response itself.  

Harvard Ash Center.  “Responding to Coronavirus:  Resources for State and Local Government Practitioners.”  Harvard University Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.  20 March 2020.  

  • The Ash Center and affiliate organizations like the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative are providing a number of resources for local governments, nonprofits, philanthropic entities, and other organizations in the midst of the pandemic.  Examples include a specific toolkit for Indian Country, mental health and emotional health resources for city governments, and a focus on strategic crisis communications.  

Know your Rights” Training and documents for the context of Covid-19 amid concerns of a growing “State of Emergency.The National Lawyers’ Guild.  7 April 2020.  

  • This document provides basic social and legal answers for citizens around the coronavirus outbreak.  It examines what to watch out for given a “state of emergency” and what this means for Americans.  It also looks at the legal regimes of shelter in place ordinances and mandates and what rights Americans should expect to have in these moments.  The document looks at rights, organizing, martial law, and answers helpful questions about asylum seekers and ways to counter the growing role of the far right in advancing a “racist, anti-immigrant agenda.”  The NLG also provides a statement here on their work and values as an organization.  

Medically Vulnerable Immigrants Detained by ICE in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana Seek Release Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak.”  Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).  1 April 2020.  

  • This briefing looks at recent legal actions including lawsuits to release currently detained, medically vulnerable immigrants housed in five Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers—in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  CCR argues that these facilities are “notoriously overcrowded, unhealthy, and lack adequate medical facilities or expertise.”

Perez, Ignacio.  “COVID-19 in Chile: Reflections on governance and community in Santiago.”  9 April 2020.  

  • Perez, writing from Santiago, writes that “Despite being in an incipient stage of the outbreak, compared to other countries in Asia and Europe, the coronavirus is exposing previous inequalities within and between Chilean cities.”  They go on to examine the structural context of deep social unrest and cleavages plaguing Chile before the outbreak and note the country’s deep spatial segregations.  These structural conditions will affect the extent to which Chile’s response to the outbreak can be community driven and inclusive.  

Maitra, Ani.  “COVID-19 And The Neoliberal State Of Exception: How Do Neoliberal Governments Act In Emergency Situations When The Interests Of The Private Sector Top Their Agenda?”  Al Jazeera.  29 March 2020.  

  • Maitra examines Agamben’s recent and widely criticized response to early lockdown and quarantine measures in Italy and argues cites Agamben when he writes that: “Governments partitioning populations to limit the spread of an infectious disease is a flagrant display of an ‘exhaustive, unobstructed power that is completely transparent to its object and exercised to the full.’” Maitra also engages Foucault in this article, when he writes that quadrillage in the time of contagion reveals naked governmental power.

NYU Urban Democracy Lab,  "Bending Toward Justice: Building Power for a Post-Pandemic Future." Multi-week Webinar series from NYU Gallatin.  17 April 2020.  

VI. Architecture, Design, and ‘Innovation’

The following readings address the implications of COVID-19 on the future design of the built environment. This won’t be the first time in history that buildings and cities will be reimagined in response to disease. Disease outbreaks have always been drivers for new innovations in architecture and urban design. Pandemics often lay bare spatial inadequacies and highlight the need for broader changes in how societies are spatially conceptualized and organized. Fighting Cholera epidemics in the 1800s, for example, was a catalyst for new zoning laws to prevent overcrowding as well as for new regulations that altered the design of plumbing and sewer systems. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic echoes aid relief responses generally carried out by humanitarian organizations and emergency departments of governments following natural disasters and armed conflict. Make-shift hospitals from ship containers, modular IKEA housing units, and guerrilla architectural solutions have been witnessed across the world. However, there needs to be a distinction between immediate response to spatial needs as well as long-term contingency plans for the next disease. The question remains: how can we redesign cities to fight future pandemics?

Academic Content

Pardeshi, Peehu, Balaram Jadhav, Ravikant Singh, Namrata Kapoor, Ronita Bardhan, Arnab Jana, Siddarth David, and Nobhojit Roy. “Association between Architectural Parameters and Burden of Tuberculosis in Three Resettlement Colonies of M-East Ward, Mumbai, India.” Cities & Health 0, no. 0 (March 16, 2020): 1–18.

  • This essay looks at the effect of slum redevelopment policy on tuberculosis transmission in resettlement colonies. The researchers found a strong correlation between lower capacity for ventilation and sunlight and higher incidences of TB in buildings where the byelaws had been relaxed to increase the floor area ratio of the project.

Sample, Hilary. “Emergency Urbanism and Preventive Architecture.” In Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture, 231–250, edited by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini. Canadian Centre for Architecture Montreal & Lars Muller, Canada, 2012.

  • This chapter provides an interesting overview, both contemporary and historical, about the relationship between the healthy city and the sick city, and discusses the role of architecture in curing disease and providing a healthy city.  Learning from SARS and HIV/AIDS, the author argues that disease cannot be controlled through one fixed location. She states that “[w]here modernism created utopian spaces filled with light and air and open, continuous space, today we understand space quite differently, to be in fact filled with particles, pathogens and other invisible matter.” As a result, she argues that we need to think of a multitude of architecture interventions that would address urban pandemics, and “establish a necessary means of managing health, and defending the city.”

Campell, Margaret. “Strange Bedfellows: Tuberculosis and Modern Architecture-How 'The Cure' Influenced Modernist Architecture and Design” In Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture, 231–250, edited by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini. Canadian Centre for Architecture Montreal & Lars Muller, Canada, 2012.

  • Shows clearly the link between modernism and health, especially design that revolves around the cure of Tuberculosis.

Honey-Roses, Jordi, Isabelle Anguelovski, Josep Bohigas, Vincent Chireh, Carolyn Daher, Cecil Konijnendijk, Jill Litt, et al. 2020. “The Impact of COVID-19 on Public Space: A Review of the Emerging Questions.” OSF Preprints. April 21. doi:10.31219/

  • This article aims to highlight emerging questions at the interface of COVID-19 and city design. What will be the long term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on public space once the restrictions have been lifted? It is possible that the COVID-19 crisis may fundamentally change our relationship with public space. In the ensuing months and years, it will be critical to study and measure these changes in order to inform urban planning and design in a post-COVID-19 world.

Long Form Content

Moulds, Josephine. Hospitals made from shipping containers could help tackle COVID-19. World Economic Forum. (24 March 2020)

  • This article introduces prefabricated intensive care units (ICUs) built inside shipping containers. Designed by an Italian design company and MIT, the ICUs are expected to cater to escalating numbers of coronavirus patients around the world.

Hegarty, Stephanie. Where has all the hand sanitizer gone? World Economic Forum. (2 April 2020)

  • The article discusses the global challenges faced by factories in making hand sanitizer. While the main ingredient, alcohol, is not in shortage, it continues to be channeled and prioritized for other uses. The article sheds light on the capitalist hegemony of private companies in world politics, showcasing how the third richest man in Britain plans to build hand sanitizer production plants in Europe “within days” and distribute them to hospitals for free.

Peters, Adele. How we can redesign cities to fight future pandemics. Fast Company. (24 March 2020)

  • The article discusses how the novel coronavirus is going to fundamentally change how we think about designing cities. The future of buildings will need to be equipped to combat infectious diseases.

Peters, Adele. This tool is helping cities find the neighborhoods most vulnerable to coronavirus. Fast Company. (24 March 2020)

  • Urban Footprint’ is an urban planning tool that is beginning to map out the most vulnerable neighborhoods to the coronavirus. The planning tool pulls in the latest data from the CDC and combines it with other relevant statistics such as poverty and proximity to supermarkets. The tool shows how lack of access to basic services is positively correlated to higher rates of infection.

Gerfen, Katie. MASS Design Group Asks: "What is the Role of Architecture in Fighting a Pandemic?” Architect Magazine. (27 March 2020).  

  • Boston- and Kigali’, Rwanda–based MASS Design Group has announced a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that includes creating open-source resources for designers "to employ in adapting our domestic, commercial, residential, and public spaces into spaces that will keep us safe."

Various photographers. Corona, Queens, Street Art and the Pandemic. The Guardian. (6 April 2020).  

  • This essay shows a collection of images of street art from around the world. Covid-19 is the subject of topical, colourful and attention-grabbing street art, whether it is for artistic, educational or political ends.

Faus Onbargi, Alexia. How urban lifestyles made Spain so vulnerable to COVID-19. Oxford Urbanists. (5 April 2020).  

  • The essay discusses how charming small alleyways, historic buildings and strong social ties played a negative role in the spread of the coronavirus in Spain.

Raskin, Laura. Architects, Engineers, and Physicians Develop COVID-19 Patient Isolation Hood. Architectural Record. (14 April 2020).

  • Physicians from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston are working with about 100 engineers and architects in the U.S. to develop a patient isolation hood (PIH) intended to contain the coronavirus in clinical settings TO help protect health-care providers.

Harrouk, Christele. WTA Design 60 Emergency Quarantine Facilities to Fight COVID-19. Arch Daily. (15 April 2020).

  • In order to help hospitals at capacity, WTA is creating short-term relief spaces, in specific 60 Emergency Quarantine Facilities. The temporary structures, aiming to augment the capacity of hospitals, are built with wood and enveloped in plastic, facilitating the addition of more modules.

Bologna, Jamie & Dearing, Tiziana. Architecture And Design After The COVID-19 Pandemic. Radio Boston. (13 April 2020).  

  • This podcast is a discussion with Michael Murphy, founding principal and executive director of MASS Design Group, about designing hospitals, offices and schools after the coronavirus pandemic.

Additional Useful Articles:  

Acuto, Michele. “COVID-19: Lessons for an Urban(izing) World.” Cell Press. April 4 2020.  

Gilmore, Ruthie. “COVID-19, Decarceration, and Abolition.” Haymarket Books.  (Video). 17 April 2020.  

Hooper, Michael. “Pandemics  And The Future Of Urban Density.”  Harvard Graduate School of Design.  4 February 2020.  

Foster, John Bellamy. “The Alienation of Nature and Humanity.” Marx’s Ecology:  Materialism and Nature. Monthly Review Press, 2000.  

Wallace, Rob, Alex Liebman, Luis Fernando Chaves and Rodrick Wallace. “COVID-19 and Circuits of Capital.” Tee Monthly Review.  1 April 2020.  

Wallace, Rob. Influenza’s Historical Present. Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Influenza, Agribusiness, and The Nature Of Science.  Monthly Review Press, 2016.

VII. Gender, Space and the Pandemic

As COVID-19 tears through communities, its effects will reach far beyond the symptoms of a virus to do harm through reinvigorating systems of patriarchal oppression. COVID-19 has already expanded the physical, political and social spaces of gender-based violence. Quarantine measures have trapped women around the world with abusive partners, giving rise to horrific and unprecedented reports of domestic violence (Taub). Lawmakers in red states have used the state of exception to advance misogynistic political agendas (Goldberg). The LGBTQ+ community, already experiencing disproportionately high rates of unemployment, poverty and unstable housing conditions, are at particularly high risk during COVID-19 (HRC).

These readings also discuss the implications of COVID-19 for the further feminization of labor. Unpaid family and caregiving labor disproportionately falls on the shoulders of women, threatening to “reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights,” according to the U.N. Meanwhile, it is also women who make up the majority of underpaid positions in healthcare, social work and critical retail deemed essential during the pandemic (Robertson). If it continues unchecked, simultaneously exploiting and overlooking the gendered experience of COVID-19 threatens to further deepen inequalities that will continue to plague cities long after the virus is gone.

Academic Content

Smith, Julia. Overcoming the ‘tyranny of the urgent’: integrating gender into disease outbreak preparedness and response.  Issue 2: Humanitarian Action & Crisis Response.  (28 June 2019).  

  • This article addresses the gender dimension of disease outbreaks and the implications for policy and response when gender is neglected.  The article focuses on “illustrating how the failure to challenge gender assumptions and incorporate gender as a priority at the global level has national and local impacts.”

Long Form Content

Global Health 50/50. The Global Health 50/50 Report 2020: Power, Privilege and Priorities. Global Health 50/50 hosted by University College London Centre for Gender and Global Health (2020)

  • Self-described as “A review of the equality- and gender-related policies and practices of 200 global organisations active in health and health policy.”

Drolet, Gabrielle and Shane O’Neill. Sex Work Comes Home: More of us are making and watching sexual performances online now. Fewer of us are paying. The New York Times.  (10 April 2020)

  • This article and accompanying video montage addresses the changing spaces of sex work during COVID-19. The article focuses on camming: the stigma surrounding it, the economic impact of “stay at home” orders, and the implications of an influx of new cammers on established cammers.

Robertson, Campbell and Robert Gebeloff. How Millions of Women Became the Most Essential Workers in America. The New York Times. (18 April 2020)

  • “One in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, according to a New York Times analysis of census data crossed with the federal government’s essential worker guidelines.” Particularly pronounced in healthcare, social work and “critical retail,” a disproportionate number of those employed in these now-high risk industries are women. These positions are often underpaid.

Solidarity Center. Unions Leading the Creation of a Feminist World of Work (2 April 2020)

  • Webinar with a panel of women union leaders from around the world. The panelists discuss their work to ensure women have the skills and opportunities to take active and leading roles in their unions.

Short Form Content

Taub, Amanda. A New COVID-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide. The New York Times. (6 April 2020)

  • Restrictions on movement during COVID-19 have resulted in a horrifying surge in intimate terrorism, a term many experts prefer to domestic violence. Lockdown has given abusers more power to restrict, control or be violent towards their partners.  Meanwhile, the isolation has also closed options for escape or recourse, as shelters have become overburdened or shut down and court dates are pushed further into the future.

Neuman, Scott. Global Lockdowns Resulting In 'Horrifying Surge' In Domestic Violence, U.N. Warns. National Public Radio. (6 April 2020)

Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The Lives and Livelihoods of Many in the LGBTQ Community are at Risk Amidst COVID-19 Crisis. Human Rights Campaign Foundation. (20 March 2020)

  • LGBTQ+ Americans are less likely than the general population to have access to adequate medical care or paid medical leave, putting the LGBTQ+ community at particularly high risk during COVID-19.  This is compounded by long standing discrimintion that has resulted in LGBTQ+ Americans having disproportionately high rates of unemployment, poverty and unstable housing conditions.

Burns, Katelyn. Coronavirus isn’t transphobic. But America’s economic and health systems are. Vox. (3 April 2020)

  • Before the pandemic, when compared to cisgender peers, trans people were more likely to experience unemployement, homelessnes and poverty.  Trans people are also chronically overlooked within the country’s healthcare system. COVID-19 is expected to exacerbate this marginalization leaving the trans community without basic economic, social or healthcare resources.  


Baume, Matt.  “Prostitution is the Social Safety Net in This Country”: Sex Workers Speak OUt About Coronavirus. Them. (19 March 2020)

  • This article discusses the precarity of (in person, nonvirtual) sex work, as quarantine limits sex workers’ face-to-face interactions with clients. As part of the informal economy, sex workers (disproportionately low income, LGBTQ+ people of color) have no paid sick leave, access to federal benefits and the article discusses some of the ways that sex workers have found economic relief (going virtual, community relief funds).   See also SexWork COVID-19: Guidelines for Sex Workers, Clients, Third Parties, and Allies from Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network and Maggie's Toronto Sex Workers Action Project.

Goldberg, Michelle. Red States Are Exploiting Coronavirus to Ban Abortion. New York Times. (6 April 2020)

  • Govorners in several red states have used COVID-19 to advance their political agenda, deeming abortion clinics sites of elective procedures and closing them down with other medical facilities considered non-essential. Doctors forced to turn away patients report patients asking for advice on how they can terminate pregnancies themselves.  

Ahmed, Zara and Adam Sonfield. The COVID-19 Outbreak: Potential Fallout for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. Guttmacher Institute. (11 March 2020)

  • This article anticipates implications COVID-19 will have for access to reproductive health including: major disruptions in medical supply chains threatens access to contraceptives, antiretrovirals for HIV/AIDS and antibiotics to treat STIs; economic barriers to care become more pronounced with widespread unemployment; resources dedicated to reproductive health are diverted to hospitals to help COVID-19 patients.

Kim, Michelle. FDA Revises Blood Donation Policy for Gay Men Amid COVID-19 Crisis. Them. (2 April, 2020)

  • Under mounting pressure and demand for blood, the FDA lifted prohibitive restrictions on blood donations to allow for a broader donor base to help in the pandemic. A lifetime ban on accepting blood from men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who inject drugs had been in place since 1983, when fears of HIV transmission led the FDA to prohibit these groups from donating blood.

Chaturvedi, Seema. The Impact And Burden Of Covid-19 Is Not Gender Agnostic. Inc.42. (13 April 2020)

  • In India “this pandemic is no longer only a public health crisis. It has morphed into a major socio-economic crisis made worse for women.”  The COVID-19 pandemic has shouldered women with even more of the burden of caregiving. In many instances, women are forced to give up paid positions in favor of unpaid housework and childcare to allow their husbands to continue working, further exacerbating gender inequality.

Sitepu, Anindita and Diah Saminarsih. COVID-19: Gender lens needed to fight pandemic. The Jakarta Post. (11 April 2020)

  • This article calls for governments to recognize and address gender-related burdens and barriers during COVID-19 in order to achieve better policy outcomes.

Villarreal, Alexandra. Coronavirus pandemic exacerbates inequalities for women, UN warns. The Guardian. (11 April 2020)

  • An overview of anticipated setbacks in the efforts towards gender equality worldwide, from women taking on a disproportionate share of unpaid family care, to a surge in reports of domestic violence. See the U.N. statement here.

Karim, Naimul. Women in Bangladesh promote hygiene in refugee camps amid coronavirus fears. Reuters. (11 March 2020)

  • In Bangladesh, at the world’s largest refugee settlement, women spearheaded preventative measures in anticipation of COVID-19’s arrival, setting up isolation units in hospitals and incorporating lessons in handwashing and hygiene into the school curriculum.

Other resources

Global Health 50/50. COVID-19 sex-disaggregated data tracker.

  • A compilation of publicly available sex-disaggregated data reported by national governments to date.  

VIII. Carceral Spaces, Race, and Settler Colonialism

COVID-19 has spread rapidly through spaces of incarceration and occupation, exposing the devastating and lethal effects of oppression and structural inequality on marginalized communities. Prisons and jails have always been public health crises that “the deadly threat of COVID-19 only makes more depraved” as human beings are confined to small spaces without the option of social distancing, and without access to basic necessities, protective equipment, or even proper health care (Free Them All for Public Health). Communities and lands under occupation experience similarly devastating effects as a result of settler colonialism, cut off from the resources needed to combat the virus, as in the description of Gaza as the world’s largest “open-air prison camp” (Jacobin). When considered together, spaces of incarceration and occupation embody power relationships and systemic inequalities, particularly with regards to race, income, religion, and immigration status. When compounded with the threat of COVID-19, these spaces place the most vulnerable among their populations - the elderly, those with preexisting health conditions - at even greater risk, and likelihood of suffering the lethal effects of the virus.

Academic Content

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press (2012).

  • This chapter “The Color of Justice” from The New Jim Crow frames the mass incarceration of Black and brown people in the United States as part of a longer history of racist control (slavery, Jim Crow), now evidenced in the lasting implications of the “colorblind” War on Drugs: “It is the genius of the new system of control that it can always be defended on nonracial grounds, given the rarity of a noose or a racial slur in connection with any particular case.” As a result, “the colorblind rhetoric and fanfare of recent years, the design of the drug war effectively guarantees that those who are swept into the nation’s new undercast are largely black and brown.” Thus, when COVID-19 enters carceral spaces, Black and brown people are disproportionately exposed to the virus, and suffer its devastating consequences.

Wolfe, Patrick. Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native. Journal of Genocide Research. (20 January 2020).

  • This article focuses on what Wolfe terms the settler colonial “logic of elimination,” exploring how “the primary motive for elimination is not race (or religion, ethnicity, grade of civilization, etc.) but access to territory.” However, this logic inevitably has devastating, often lethal effects for entire populations and their land, disproportionately affecting marginalized racial, ethnic, and religious groups. COVID-19 has further highlighted the vulnerability of communities under occupation, and who have endured long histories of settler encroachment (e.g., Palestinians, Native Americans, Indigenous people in the Amazon), asking us to consider how the coronavirus can be (and is being) used to facilitate the settler “logic of elimination.”

Long Form Content

Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. Of Course there are Protests. The State is Failing Black People. New York Times. (29 May 2020).

  • This opinion piece links COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black people with America’s long history of racism and the continuing governmental failures that have put Black people at higher risk of contracting, and dying from, the virus.
  • Taylor ties the pandemic to the protests against the recent police killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people: “the convergence of these tragic events - a pandemic disproportionately killing black people, the failure of the state to protect black people and the preying on black people by the police - has confirmed was most of us already know: if we and those who stand with us do not mobilize in our own defense, then no official entity ever will...Black Lives Matter only because we will make it so.”

Gay, Roxane. Remember, No One is Coming to Save Us. New York Times. (30 May 2020).

  • Building on Taylor’s opinion piece above, Gay links the governmental response to COVID-19, and anti-Black racism in the U.S., explaining “Eventually, doctors will find a coronavirus vaccine, but black people will continue to wait, despite the futility of hope, for a cure for racism. We will live with the knowledge that a hashtag is not a vaccine for white supremacy. We live with the knowledge that, still, no one is coming to save us. The rest of the world years to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.”

Fernandez, Belen. Israel Already Made Gaza Unlivable. Now the coronavirus is Coming Jacobin. (31 March 2020).

  • The article discusses the conditions that would make a coronavirus outbreak in Gaza particularly catastrophic as “the world’s largest open-air prison,” ultimately calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Stern-Weiner, Jamie. Does Israel Have the Right to Cage Two Million People in a Coronavirus-Ravaged Prison Camp? Jacobin. (14 April 2020).

  • Building on the article above, this article discusses how Gaza is “already experiencing a chronic humanitarian crisis - indeed this ongoing disaster is the reason Gaza is so vulnerable to a COVID-19 epidemic.” Using the violent Israeli response to nonviolent Gazan protests in 2018 to explore responses of the Israeli government to hypothetical Gazan efforts to avoid the coronavirus, the author ends by posing the question: “Does Israel have the right to forcibly encage a civilian population it illegally occupies and illegally blockades in a space it has rendered unlivable?”

Shah, Naureen and Andrea Flores. Living with COVID - in an Immigration Jail ACLU. (25 March 2020).

  • ACLU calls on the government to reduce the number of people in immigration detention centers (filing lawsuits against ICE in Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California)

Cineas, Fabiola. COVID-19 is disproportionately taking Black lives. Vox. (8 April 2020)

  • This article provides a broad overview of how systemic racism has led to disproportionately high death rates among Black Americans as a result of coronavirus. One section highlights how mass incarceration of Black people (at 5x the rate of white people), combined with the “conditions of confinement - lack of access to basic necessities like clean water, soap, and ventilation - to already existing health conditions, and it’s no surprise that incarcerated people are more susceptible to sickness.”

Cancryn, Adam. Emergency Funds for American Indian Health Stalled. Politico. (20 March 2020)

  • While the CARES Act signed in by Trump on March 6th allocated $40M in emergency funds for tribes to combat the spread of coronavirus, the funds have been held up, leaving “tribal leaders across the nation frustrated and ill-equipped to respond to the fast-growing outbreak.”

Romero, Simon. Checkpoints, Curfews, Airlifts: Virus Rips Through Navajo Nation New York Times. (7 April 2020)

  • Highlights many of the vulnerabilities that the Navajo people (and indigenous folks more generally) face when it comes to the pandemic (underlying health conditions, lack of running water, delay in federal funds/resources coming to the reservation) but never explicitly calls out why these are a result of American settler colonialism

IHS Receives more than $1B for coronavirus response. IHS Press Release. (3 April 2020)

  • After Native American tribes experienced a month of delays on funds for coronavirus testing & prevention, the 3rd wave of coronavirus relief has allocated greater funds for American Indian & Alaska Native health care. However, the long delay and already high death toll among Native people begs the question whether this is too little too late.

Blend, Benay. A Tale of Two ‘Reservations’: Palestine, Indian Country, and the Coronavirus Palestine Chronicle. (4 April 2020).

  • Highlights similarities between Palestine & Navajo Nation when it comes to dealing with COVID-19 (obstacles as a result of settler colonialism as well as opportunities to “create a new paradigm based on sharing resources, creating mutual aid networks, and lifting sanctions”)

Fellet, Joao. Coronavirus could ‘wipe out Brazil’s indigenous people. BBC News. (6 April 2020).

Short Form Content/ Alternative Forms of Media

 “Free them all for Public Health

  • Free them all for Public Health is an activist campaign built on the understanding that “incarceration has always been a public health emergency that the deadly threat of COVID-19 only makes more depraved.” The campaign calls on NYC officials to free those incarcerated in NYC jails and provides a toolkit for organizations and individuals who want to organize around freeing people in Rikers.

Let My People Go Campaign

  • The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, Never Again Action, the New Sanctuary Coalition, and the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund who have collectively launched the “Let My People Go” campaign. The campaign goals are: (1) Bail out as many people as possible from New York’s jails and immigrant prisons (2) Demand that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio #FreeThemAll.

Al-Hlou, Yousur, Kassie Bracken, Leslye Davis and Emily Rhyne. How Coronavirus at Rikers Puts all of N.Y.C. at Risk. NY Times. (8 April 2020)

  • This video explains how jails serve as an incubator for COVID-19 with incarcerated people held in close, confined quarters, as thousands of guards and employees pass through the jail every day. The rate of coronavirus is 7x in Rikers that of New York City, and while the DoC has said “it’s working as quickly as possible” to release inmates, the releases are coming slowly and with little guidance on precautions people should take when released.

Cheney-Rice, Zac. Rikers reports its first COVID-19 related death NY Mag. (6 April 2020).

  • Michael Tyson, 53, became the first person to die from COVID-19 at Rikers Island on March 26th. He had been at Rikers for about a month on a “technical, noncriminal parole violation” and his death can be attributed to the “governor’s belated, and arbitrary timing” in calling for the release of 400 prisoners.

Longstanding issues but Native American communities at high COVID-19 Risk. CBS News (18 April 2020).

Bo, Teresa. Virus imperils Amazon deforestation, Brazil’s indigenous tribes Al Jazeera. (14 April 2020).

  • Indigenous communities in the Amazon are being put at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to illegal mining and logging activities on indigenous lands spurred by Bolsonaro’s vision for developing the Amazon.

White Police Officer Racially Profiles 2 Black Men for wearing Masks in Walmart. Youtube. (18 Mar 2020)

IX. Conflict, Post-conflict and COVID-19

COVID-19 presents a range of different challenges in a conflict and post-conflict context - with the virus potentially ravaging societies that often suffer from weak state apparatuses, low trust in government and governance structures, as well as less than adequate healthcare systems. With human suffering already being high in many of these areas, COVID-19 is a new and yet another destabilizing enemy.

Academic Content

Marcis, Frederic Le, and Judith Inggs. “The Suffering Body of the City.” Public Culture 16, no. 3 (October 1, 2004): 453–77.

  • Marcis examines the context of low-income areas in Johannesburg, South Africa post-apartheid, as the city welcomes a triumphalism of a new democracy alongside the HIV/AIDS public health epidemic. The author examines binaries and tensions inherent to South African democracy (freedom and sickness / promise and material precarity) and highlights that metaphors of the city as a body is a longstanding one in urban planning theory. Through an examination of sites of memory and HIV/AIDS at a moment of nascent democracy, Marcis argues that Johannesburg “appears in its ambivalence.” It is a city of individual hustle and collective compassion at once.

Gharibah, Mazen & Mehchy, Zaki. COVID-19 Pandemic: Syria’s Response and Healthcare Capacity. Conflict Research Programme, The London School of Economics and Political Science. (April 2020)

  • At the Conflict Research Programme at LSE, Gharibah and Mehchy analyse the underlying political economy of violence with a view on informing policy. The Syria conflict research programme focuses on five interrelated research topics: The function and legitimacy of public authority, identity politics, economic drivers of the conflict, civicness and reconstruction. In this memo, the authors explore the issue of COVID-19 outbreak in relation to the capacity of Syria’s healthcare system.  With a total capacity of treating 6,500 potential patients with the novel coronavirus, the memo highlights large disparities between various regions of the country in their ability to treat patients. This is particularly true in the northwestern and northeastern parts of the country that are rendered more vulnerable due to elevated numbers of internally displaced population.

International Crisis Group. Broken Ties, Frozen Borders: Colombia and Venezuela Face COVID-19. (16 April 2020)

  • Briefing by the Brussels-based NGO International Crisis Group on the closing of the border between Colombia and Venezuela in the context of the conflict between the two countries and the large number of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia - who now will be facing the consequences of both severed mobility and a public health crisis. The paper argues for cooperation between the two countries to be re-established during the crisis.

Long Form Content

International Crisis Group. COVID-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch. (24 March 2020)

  • Briefing by the Brussels-based NGO International Crisis Group on seven trends around the topic of conflict in connection to COVID-19. The paper explores issues of vulnerability of populations affected by COVID-19, the damage inflicted on international crisis management and conflict resolution mechanisms, and political exploitation of the crisis.

Brown, Frances Z. & Blanc, Jarrett, et. al. Coronavirus in Conflict Zones: A Sobering Landscape. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (14 April 2020)

  • Comprehensive content offering twelve analyses of conflict zones in the context of COVID-19 by a variety of authors; against the backdrop of COVID-19 entering ‘conflict-affected states [...] with fragmented authority, political violence, low state capacity, high levels of civilian displacement, and low citizen trust in leadership’.

Bilgin Ayata. “The Limits of Protection, Prevention and Care.” EUROZINE, March 31, 2020

  • An introduction to a mini-series about the perils of refugees in European cities and along the EU borders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the introduction, the mini-series has four essays: “From national threat to oblivion: Erasing migrants from public discourse in Italy during COVID-19” by Chiara Pagano; “Politics of abandonment: Refugees on Greek islands during the coronavirus crisis” by Bilgin Ayata and Artemis Fyssa; and “Contagion and containment: Curtailing the freedom of movement in times of coronavirus” by Kenny Cupers.

Short Form Content

Maurer, Peter. COVID-19 poses a dramatic threat to life in conflict zones. World Economic Forum. (27 March 2020).

  • Piece by Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on the risks of COVID-19 entering conflict zones due to the lack of medical equipment, as well on the efforts of the Red Cross.

Paquette, Danielle, et. al. Violence imperils coronavirus response in conflict zones around the world. The Washington Post. (4 April 2020)

  • Comprehensive overview of the status of various conflict zones around the world in the context of COVID-19.

Sandnes, Marie. COVID-19 in Conflict-Torn Mali. PRIO. (2 April 2020)

  • Blog post exploring the risks of COVID-19 entering countries marked by weak governance and extremist violence through the example of Mali.

Fore, Henrietta. COVID-19: Global ceasefire would be a gamechanger for 250 million children living in conflict-affected areas. UNICEF. (17 April 2020)

  • UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore calling for a global ceasefire to protect children.

Timsit, Annabelle. The China-Taiwan conflict is disrupting the WHO’s fight against Covid-19. Quartz. (9 April 2020)

  • Article exploring the conflict between China and Taiwan in relation to WHO and the COVID-19 reponse.

Nasser, Afrah. COVID-19 in Yemen - A Perfect Storm. Human Rights Watch. (14 April 2020)

  • HRW Dispatch looking into COVID-19 in the context of the Houthi-Saudi conflict ravaging the country for over five years, decimating the healthcare system and leading to a number of disease outbreaks over the past years.

Estrin, Daniel. Still Locked In Conflict, Israelis And Palestinians Need Each Other To Fight COVID-19. NPR. (26 March 2020)

  • Article on current dynamics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the context of COVID-19.

Peters, Katie & El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, Sherine. OPINION: Dealing with COVID-19 in conflict zones needs a different approach. Thomas Reuters Foundation. (30 March 2020)

  • Opinion piece mapping out strategies to deal with COVID-19 in conflict zones.

X. Data and Privacy

The readings in this section center on discussing both the promise and pitfalls of leveraging data in the age of COVID-19. Across the globe, municipalities and citizen activists have leveraged open-source data to improve emergency response, created data visualizations that help us better understand spatial disparities in COVID-19 risk, and compiled endless lists of COVID-19 resources in open-source repositories. Much as this section’s readings center on discussing the power of leveraging data in a pandemic, they also highlight the drawbacks of living in an age awash in digital information. In an effort to stem the virus’ spread, several cities have implemented digital surveillance programs that leverage cell phone location data to inform contact tracing, raising troubling privacy and civil liberties concerns.

Academic Content

Crawford, K. & Finn, M. The Limits of Crisis Data: Analytical and Ethical Challenges of Using Social and Mobile Data to Understand Disasters. GeoJournal (80). (2015).  

  • In this article, Crawford and Finn discuss the limitations of leveraging cell phone and social media data following a crisis. In a case study of how municipalities used Twitter and cell phone data in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York and the Haiti Earthquake, Crawford and Finn document some of the ethical concerns that leveraging “big data” produces. As municipalities have started to leverage cell phone data to power emergency responses to COVID-19, this piece sheds light on some of the common pitfalls and ethical oversights that data-driven approaches to crisis management pose.

Rabinow, P. & Rose, N. Biopower Today. BioSocieties 1(2). (2006).

  • In this article, Rabinow and Rose provide greater conceptual clarity to Foucault’s concept of biopower, or the “regimes of authority and practices of intervention” that are used to regulate “collective human vitality, morbidity and mortality” in contemporary society (p. 197). As municipalities across the world have leveraged digital surveillance technologies to track the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate future population losses, such interventions provide a contemporary example of Foucoult’s concept of biopower.

Long Form Content

Buchanan, L., Patel, J.K., Rosenthal, B. M, & Singhvi, A. A Month of Coronavirus in New York City: See the Hardest-Hit Areas. The New York Times. (1 April 2020).  

  • Using data from the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, this piece identifies striking spatial disparities in COVID-19 cases across NYC. Through a series of maps, this article shows how low-income/immigrant communities and communities of color have been hardest hit by COVID-19 infections in NYC, demonstrating how the pandemic cleaves along class and racial lines.

COVID-19 Data:  Health.”  New York City Department of Health (DOH).  2020.  

  • Open data from the New York City Mayor’s Office provides information about COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, including case data and technical notes on Github; COVID-19 cases by ZIP code; information on the percent of patients testing positive by ZIP code in NYC, and daily summaries of cases and deaths, among other information.  Indeed, Coronavirus data by neighborhood show striking correlations with poverty and people of color.  

Keith, M. How Technological Disruption Challenges the Urban Commons and Individual: The Defibrillator, Apple Watch, and Uber. Oxford Urbanists Magazine. (4 March 2020).

  • Keith examines the relationship between technological innovation and urban transformations. Referring to the defibrillator, the Apple Watch and Uber, the article explores the balance between sharing the urban commons and individual prosperity.

Marks. J. The Cybersecurity 202: Privacy Experts Fear a Boom in Coronavirus Surveillance. Washington Post. (14 April 2020).

  • In this piece, Marks casts doubt on the effectiveness of using digital surveillance programs to power emergency responses to COVID-19. Marks also raises the concern that surveillance programs will not get rolled back after the pandemic is over. Drawing parallels to how post-9/11 surveillance technology was later used to police drug activities, Marks opines that current surveillance programs could lead to a long-term erosion of civil liberties.

Servick, K. Cellphone Tracking Could Help Stem the Spread of Coronavirus. Is Privacy the Price? Science Magazine. (22 March 2020).

  • Given concerns that using digital surveillance tools to track COVID-19 patients will open up a host of privacy concerns, Servick shares some approaches to tracking COVID-19 patients in ways that remain sensitive to personal privacy. Servick highlights efforts such as sharing anonymized personal data to identify broad health trends and a COVID-19 app that allows users to voluntarily share their location/health data with public officials.

Singer, N. & Sang-Hun, C. As Coronavirus Surveillance Escalates, Personal Privacy Plummets. New York Times. (24 March 2020).

  • This article reviews how a host of countries around the world (e.g. Israel, Italy, and South Korea) have started to leverage digital surveillance tools as a means to control the spread of COVID-19. The article highlights the tension that surveillance tools pose between improving emergency response and violating civil liberties and privacy.

Tan, J.
 We Can’t Let Tech Companies Use This Crisis to Expand Their Power. Jacobin. (14 April 2020).

  • This article highlights the pitfalls of relying on digital surveillance technologies developed by Silicon Valley tech companies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The author raises the concern that “by positioning itself as a public servant amid a pandemic, Silicon Valley could use the crisis to expand their control and jurisdiction over our digital livelihoods after the pandemic crisis.”

Short Form Content

Bebinger, M. Massachusetts Recruits 1,000 ‘Contact Tracers’ to Battle COVID-19. NPR. (13 April 2020).

  • This article documents Massachusetts’ contact tracing program as a robust, privacy-first approach to stemming the spread of COVID-19. Under the Massachusetts model, “contact tracers” call individuals who have been in close contact with someone testing positive for the virus, circumventing some of the privacy concerns that have been coupled with mining geolocation data from cell phones.

Earley, M. The Digital Disparities in the Time of Coronavirus. Kennedy School Review. (10 April 2020).

  • Earley argues that the pandemic is revealing the severe inequities caused by the nation’s digital divide and that it is crucial that we invest in measures to narrow the divide now.

Halbfinger, D.M., Kershner, I. & Bergman, R. To Track Coronavirus, Israel Moves to Tap Secret Trove of Cellphone Data. New York Times. (16 March 2020).

  • This piece chronicles how Israel’s Internal Security Agency plans to mine a trove of cell phone location metadata to track people who have come in contact with those testing positive for COVID-19 and order them to shelter in place, raising data privacy concerns.

Goldsmith, S. & Leger, M. The Role of Maps in Crafting a Shared Narrative in a Crisis. Governing Magazine. (1 April 2020).

  • This article underscores the pitfalls of an “infodemic,” in which the public overshares information, that is misleading or hard to understand. This piece advocates for creating visualizations and maps that are personal, easy to understand, and that tell a story.

Morrison, S.
Just Because You’re Working from Home Doesn’t Mean Your Boss Isn’t Watching You. Vox. (2 April 2020).

  • As a substantial portion of the American workforce has transitioned to working remotely during the pandemic, Morrison documents how companies have started to invest in software to monitor their employees’ productivity. Critics contend that the increased use of productivity monitoring technologies are another example of privacy violations that have cropped up during the pandemic.

National League of Cities. COVID-19: Local Action Tracker. National League of Cities (n.d.).

  • This resource from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the National League of Cities highlights local policy actions that different U.S. municipalities have enacted to address COVID-19. The resource includes a downloadable data table indicating the location and description of the policy response, those impacted by the policy, and more.

New York City Department of Health. COVID-19: Data. New York City Department of Health. (n.d.)

  • This resource presents real-time data on NYC residents that have tested positive for COVID-19, including the number of hospitalizations, confirmed deaths, and probable deaths in the city. The data presents information by borough, age, sex, and includes a repository of data available for download.

Pardes, A. Amid Social Distancing, Neighbors Mobilize over Facebook. Wired. (14 March 2020).

  • This piece looks at how social media platforms are encouraging new forms of community among neighbors virtually.

Scruggs, G. These Standardized Metrics Will Help Cities Measure Their Post-Pandemic Recovery

  • Data-analytic resource for thinking about how to compare cities’ responses

Yansyah, B. A. COVID-19 Resources (CORONAVIRUS). Github. (n.d.)

  • This GitHub repository includes a curated list of COVID-19-related data and apps. Linked resources are global in scope.

XI. Academia and the Pandemic

How do existing institutions navigate the coronavirus pandemic in terms of their current and future responsibilities to those who participate or are subject to these institutions? In academia, in particular, how do we plan for a longer-term future that simultaneously promises both more interest in participation in the academy and fewer resources to fulfill this? Many of the articles in this section approach the “governance” of academic institutions from an empirical perspective. They ask not simply questions of how research and the production of new knowledge can continue, but how the operations and management of institutions can survive under conditions of scarcity above and beyond the resource challenges academia already faced. New modes of learning, the sharing of administrative resources, and the creation of academic collectives are suggested. A thread that pervades throughout the articles is the consensus that, as with unequal social dynamics that become exacerbated during the crisis, the disparities in resources across academic institutions will likely intensify as well.

Themes: institutional governance, the state of exception, institutional crises in academic, financial “sustainability” in academia, alternative modes of teaching in academia

Academic Content

Agamben, G. The State of Exception Provoked by an Unmotivated Emergency (originally in Italian), Il manifesto (25 Feb 2020)

  • Agamben “state of exception” political theory applied to shifting governance structures under coronavirus in which he argues the real threat is not the disease itself by the “climate of panic” that “the media and the authorities” have created in order to impose restrictions on social freedoms that may become the social norms.  

Berg, A. Giorgio Agamben’s Coronavirus Cluelessness (23 March 2020)

  • Critique of above Agamben piece; to misunderstand the seriousness of the virus and undermine governing institutions’ role in curtailing spread is an inappropriate application of the state of exception theory, argues Berg. Agamben’s insistence that we are currently treating society only as “bare life” is another misunderstanding.

Columbia Oral History. THE STORIES WE TELL IMPACT THE ACTION WE TAKE: Our Histories, Our Illnesses, Our Futures w/ Theodore Kerr (23 April 2020)

  • In this interactive online event, writer and organizer Theodore (ted) Kerr will facilitate an opportunity for participants to consider the role and practices of archiving in real time. Kerr will connect this discussion with his work looking at the pre-histories of the ongoing AIDS crisis and how it relates to the unfolding story of COVID-19.

Long Form Content

Cantwell, B and Taylor, B. It’s Time for Radical Reorganization The Chronicle of Higher Education (15 April 2020)

  • The Cares Act allocated $14 bn for higher education, approximately split between students and institutions, though this fell short of the $50 bn estimated need and some institutions, such as small regional colleges, may be disproportionately affected. The authors argue that demand for higher education will surge during a depression, as it has done in previous times starting from the Great Depression, and we must consider how to meet these needs.

Marshall, L. COVID-19: A ‘transformative’ moment for social science. C.U. Boulder Today. (2 April 2020)

  • COVID-19 as a global disaster that transforms human behavior and thus social science research. Also covers the NSF and their new initiative CONVERGE gathering social sciences to study this pandemic from a huge range of angles.

Staisloff, R. The Bailout is Just the Start: Why Higher Ed Needs to Build a Sustainable Model The Chronicle of Higher Education (31 March 2020)

  • Commentary on more sustainable academic “business model”.

Snyder, S. Teaching coronavirus: Some college professors have written it into their lesson plans Philadelphia Inquirer (13 April 2020)

  • Article on change in curricula across fields from engineering to economics.

Other Resources

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Newitz, Annalee. What Social Distancing Looked Like in 1666.  The New York Times.  (29 March 2020).  

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