A pedestrian crosses a nearly deserted Times Square in New York City, May 2020
Stefan Falke / laif / Redux

The novel coronavirus pandemic threatens to upend urban life as we know it. Metropolises such as New York City have ground to a halt while grappling with high rates of infection. The requirements of social distancing are harder to follow in cities than they are in places where people live in larger homes or drive cars. Some city dwellers have fled or plan to leave soon.  

The new normal seems to cut against the very ethos of dense urban centers. Cities bring people and their activities close together. They rely on shared public space and goods—parks, transit, libraries, and

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