I am a firm believer in the maxim that out of every adversity grows opportunity, a positive reaction from an unforeseen change. And now more than ever, this optimism is needed.
A few decades ago when I was studying the impact of the built environment on its inhabitants, I came across the work of the Swiss-French architect and planner Charles-Édouard Le Corbusier. He died when I was just four months old, but he had lived right from the 1880s right through to the mid 1960s.
As the global Great Depression enveloped Europe, Le Corbusier devoted more and more time to his ideas for urban design and planned cities. He believed that his new, modern architectural forms would provide an organisational solution that would raise the quality of life for the working classes. In times of strife, he saw the possibility of how access and comfort could be maximised. In times of strife, people are more open to radical change.
And so are we now.
We wake each morning with the ache of worry, the weight of a sort of impending doom that may not materialise, and the shock that something like this could nobble humanity in the way it has.
We are fortunate here in Galway, because in terms of Europe, if the city were a cruise liner suite, it would be one with an outside balcony on the ocean. We are lashed with the purest of Atlantic rain, and buffeted by the freshest of sea breezes. Here we have a city that, with a little imagination, can be a lot more than it is — a topic to which I have referred on many an occasion (primarily because it is an important one ).
Opportunities to shape and change cities and towns do not come up very often. A paradigm of architecture, or street layout, of development is often set and adhered to for generations making any alteration seem problematic.
But now, we have all been shaken. Nothing is absolute anymore. Nothing is definite. The way we will have to live our lives will be one that focuses on greater humanity, greater humility, a desire to be kinder to each other through a change in lifestyle and hygiene and behaviour. No longer will there be a tolerance for the sort of antics that accommodated the spread of a pandemic.
An online meeting was held in the city on Tuesday on the back of an open letter which we covered last week. A collection of diverse groupings, all empowered by the ethos of their own beliefs and organisations, have come together to dictate how we will shape the sort of Galway that will be experienced during this crisis. There are many months and maybe years left before the full threat of Covid-19 disappears. Until then we have to reshape our society to make it more compatible with a healthier lifestyle.
Our buildings need to be sustainable to a degree that encourages a change in lifestyle. Our public spaces need to be more organised and utilised for inclusive events that welcome all ages and abilities to a non-threatening environment. Our narrow streets need to be made more pedestrian and cycle friendly.
The lungs of the city need to be given the space to inhale and breathe out, to allow for eateries and coffee shops to spread outwards and create an atmosphere, dare I say it European, that would never be countenanced if this misfortune had not befallen us.
If you have ideas, get on board and make your feelings known. Play a part in the debate to shape the new Galway in which ourselves and Covid-19 will undoubtedly have to cohabit for some time to come.