Image: Caspar David Friedrich

The future is not the realm of the “true or false” but the realm of “possibles”

– Bertrand de Jouvenel


By Helle Juul – Architect MAA/MNAL, Ph.D., Vice President INTA, International Urban Development Association, Founding Partner, Juul | Frost Architects


We want to accentuate the possible futures of urban planning in the wake of the crisis, not merely to guess about it. With inspiration from the futuribles (a French movement in future studies, with a name that can be translated as ‘many futures’) we seize the opportunity to challenge the prevailing ways of planning, explore possible futures and a few steps to reach them. 



Covid-19 has placed health at the heart of urban issues in the 21st century. The impact of social distancing on our social and mental well-being makes it clear that health can’t be reduced to a physical state. The current situation Is a potential to strengthen a holistic focus on health, as physical-, social- and mental well-being, in accordance with WHO’s definition. But also, an opportunity to broaden the focus on illness to a long-term focus on urban health promotion. It is time to explore new ways to well-being – Health is not only pertinent in the time of pandemics.


With the increasing urbanization, the design of our cities, public spaces and built environment will have a greater impact on our health and well-being as well as our health cultures: how we live our lives, our behavior and the choices we make. Social segregation, growing loneliness among urban dwellers, lack of identification and belonging, air pollution and an inactive lifestyle are just few of the challenges to our well-being resulting from urbanization. We like to ask the question: How do we ensure the link between health and urban planning?



“… in order to grasp a rhythm, one must have been grasped by it” – Henry Lefebvre.


The daily rhythm of the city and our choreography of movement have changed. The last months we have witnessed empty subways and busses, while bird song has replaced the noise from cars. Meanwhile a new culture of walking has emerged, and people have rediscovered the pleasure of socializing on a stroll outside. This new rhythm of everyday life has revealed a shortage of green spaces as people flock to the parks and green areas of our cities. The new everyday praxis is an opportunity to foster a new urban culture devoted to the pleasures and benefits of urban nature and a more active way of living. 


Let’s start in the small, kickstart a greener, more walkable and healthier future, and turn empty building lots and half-empty carparks into the temporary pocket squares and -parks we need now. And next develop new ways to integrate nature in the urban fabric. The future city of well-being ensures everyone access to urban nature, that functions as climate adaption while promoting active living and well-being.



 “A city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet.”  – Richard Sennett 


The current circumstances have changed the ways we meet. Social distancing keeps us from our friends and family, but also from the strangers on the street. We meet lowered eyes, and there’s further between the interaction with a stranger. We are suddenly forced to rethink our social lives and communities: How do we secure social cohesion? 


It is vital that we highlight the sociality that endures and emerges, and bring it with us when this crisis has passed. The circumstances have shown that Aristotle was right: man is a political being who, by reason, can think of the common good for the city (polis) or the community, before individual interests – Covid-19 have fostered a new public spirit. Self-organized community singing from balconies and people grocery shopping on behalf of their elderly neighbors show the road ahead of new ways to foster social cohesion and a sense of belonging. 


The philosopher Martin Heidegger described his writings as ways not works, to emphasize the importance of a process – ways that do not end, but rather open new perspectives and horizons. We live in a new reality, and as architects and urban planners we need to accept the new conditions we operate under, and explore new ways to work, plan and design: New ways to move on.


We experience a need for new interdisciplinary collaborations between health industry, healthcare, health experts, governments and architects and urban planners with an insight in the build environment as a physical framework of health. It’s time to break down the silos, and build new links between health and urbanism in new partnerships. Together we can learn from international innovative and visionary cases on promotion of physical, social and mental health in the built environment, and develop tangible tools to work effectively and holistically with health across scales and in strategic partnerships. Tools that ensure the link between health and urban planning.



Through the interdisciplinary dialogue across borders our collaborations flourish into exchanges of knowledge, ideas, perspectives, questions and new answers. In the wake of Covid-19 our international collaborations will be challenged. The digital interface has replaced the face-to-face meeting, as the conditions for meetings across borders have changed. With a digital layer between us, we are at one and the same time present and absent. 


To respond to the new condition, it is fundamental that we seek out new ways to collaborate digitally. New ways that secure that international dialogue is not replaced by one-way monologue, and ensure sympathetic and professional insight as well as a profound understanding of the local challenges – Even if we cannot be there in person. Digitalization not only presents challenges but also potentials: In the new collaborations lies the possibility of a wider reach and stronger impact of international knowledge exchange. It’s time that we re-think the ways we collaborate across borders.

INTA, International Urban Development Association is an international network bringing together the major actors in urban development: policymakers of national, regional and local government; business leaders in real estate development, construction, engineering, service provision, product development; preeminent thinkers and research institutes; influential architecture and urbanism firms, to jointly establish new parameters for sustainable and integrated development of urbanized areas. To facilitate the exchange of experiences and knowledge, develop cooperation between public and private sectors, and build competences, INTA’s members co-produce solutions through international and regional exchanges on urban issues.