The Topography of Wellness

The advent of the coronavirus disease in 2019 (COVID-19) challenged and provoked new ways of living, working, and playing in cities, while laying bare existing inequities around race, class, geography, and public health. The impacts in our cities range from ad hoc interventions in the urban environment—such as outdoor dining installations and the adaptation of vacant retail and industrial spaces into testing centers—to changes in the very ebb and flow of public life as commuting patterns and land uses reflect a shift to a remote work economy. As cities and their inhabitants have adapted to living under the “new normal” of the coronavirus, urban living itself has changed. These impacts on urban life have brought into question how architects, landscape designers, and urban planners shape the environment in response to disease, and the impact of design on the epidemiological landscape. What can we learn about our current reality of living with the pandemic based on past responses to epidemics in urban settings?

As the United States entered a new year and generation of living with the pandemic, Open House New York had a timely discussion with Sara Jensen Carr on The Topography of Wellness, a chronological narrative of how six epidemics transformed the American urban landscape. From the infectious diseases of cholera and tuberculosis to the more complicated origins of today’s chronic diseases, epidemics have reflected changing views of the power of design, the pathology of disease, and the epidemiology of the environment. Learn about how public health has directly shaped American cities from playground design to segregation and urban renewal policies in response to the “blighted” urban areas. This conversation explored how illness and the responses to it have left their marks on the contemporary city.

Purchase The Topography of Wellness here. Open House New Yorkers can use the code 10CARR for 30% off their purchase of the book from UVA Press.

Author Bio

Sara Jensen Carr is an assistant professor in architecture, urbanism, and landscape at the School of Architecture at Northeastern University. Her research, teaching, and practice examine both the tensions and potential of modifying the urban landscape for human health and social and environmental equity. Her work and research on the connections between urban landscape, human health, and social equity has been funded by the Mellon Foundation, Graham Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. In addition, she has been published in outlets from Preventive Medicine to LA+ Journal, as well as interviewed by the New York Times, CNN, and Foreign Policy, among others, for her expertise on epidemics and urban design.

OHNY Stacks is a series of virtual book talks exploring the unknown, the unseen, and the unnoticed. Join us on Thursdays, 5:30—6:30pm ET through February with authors of highly acclaimed books critical to understanding the past, present, and future of New York—as well as national trends or global issues that influence the shape, structure, and experience of cities and urban life today.