Pandemic Urbanism

May 14, 2020

Publicness as a Myth: Individuality, profit and health in framing (pandemic) urbanism

By Anirban Adhya (, website)
Associate Professor, Lawrence Technological University, College of Architecture and Design

The author will give this presentation at the Pandemic Urbanism Symposium in a session titled “Public Spheres, Public Fears,” from 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM on May 29, 2020.

Notion of publicness is typically associated with collective sense of togetherness in cities. However, pandemic urbanism illustrates that the American experience of publicness defines the concept not as a collective, but as an extension of the individual, and as the most private rather than the most public of spaces. The global pandemic scenes reinforce that cities prioritize privacy while being presented as a regulated public space. In the American philosophy of spatial development, public space (streets, squares, markets, public buildings and even parks) as a construct, is defined through the mechanisms for development of private properties – individual improvement, profit, self-affirmation, and health. Through the lens of pandemic, the city can be seen as an extension of our individual self.

Through a correlation of concepts of legal movements of property ownership, history of privacy rights, urban design zoning and land use control history, I argue that the underlying concepts of city and public space, philosophically and politically, are shaped by self-identity and individual non-economic right to privacy. A city is not, in fact, about public collective but it is a projection of urban values centered on private ownership, human benefit and human control.

Such discussions highlight our struggle with ethical debates in imagining future of public spaces. Cities being fundamental sites of proximity and heterogeneity, analyzing, understanding, and even undermining this false constructed notion of publicness are imperative for imagining and speculating future of our urban environment.