Before Pandemica, the universal city that I introduced here a few days ago, there was the Roman military camp, the castrum, and its constituent crossroads (the decumanus and the cardo).


In my original blog, myurbanist, I wrote about the precedential role of the castrum, and how, especially in Europe, the contextual evolution of these crossroads created commercial, walkable, street life. Over time, a place of armies became a sociocultural place anew.

For instance, in Jerusalem, the legendary path to the cross coincides with the Roman decumanus. In Split, Croatia, the crossing of the decumanus and cardo in the old urban center shows remnants of the temples of the Dalmatian summer palace of Emperor Diocletian.

In myurbanist, I used to challenge American placemaking advocates to consider pragmatic approaches when borrowing from qualities of foreign urban spaces, recalling their evolution over thousands of years under different socio-cultural circumstances. Little did I know that a pandemic would make alfresco a public health necessity and that similar arguments could be used again in 2020.

The Peristyle in Split

It has long been the case that without political will, the tendencies of traditional street-use permitting and related, safety-based regulatory regimes discouraged more expansive, nontraditional street and sidewalk use.

The age of alfresco can and should inherit the momentum of the developers and community leaders who already focused on sidewalk dining ordinances, complete streets programming, and compact and walkable transit-oriented developments. A public health prerogative is an impetus to further dash allegiance to traditional regulatory schemes that provided less than creative approaches to the interface of public and private property lines.

The spirit of the “quick wins” that brought achievable placemaking to urban alleys should have new life in Pandemica.

Achieving an alfresco streetside means that municipal ordinances should grant no-fee public sidewalk use for COVID-safe tables and chairs, with physical distance-abiding walkable passages between storefronts and streets. Businesses might also innovate by offering reduced coffee, espresso, and chocolate drink prices for those who bring their own cups, allowing for safer exposures and environmental sensitivity along the way.

Will such experiments survive the pandemic? Will they meet the needs of fire codes and related public safety and often complex insurance requirements? Post-pandemic, will we continue to walk, bike, or take transit to sit streetside?

If Pandemica achieves the evolution of the castrum in the short term, it may well forecast further success in permanently adopting this sensible “look and feel” from afar.

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