Spanning the Air Bridge to See Cities in Emergence

Chuck Wolfe
6 min readJul 11, 2020
Crossing the Air Bridge

In European countries emerging from lockdown, life in quarantine has mostly passed. We have moved to lives in emergence, a daily diary of risk assessment, advisories, and air bridges. Overtourism, at least for now, has returned to mere tourism, spiced by sanitizer, HEPA filters, and masks.

Instagram and Facebook will likely slowly return to bucket list checking on display: a “ c’est Moi en Paris” for all to see. Such was pre-pandemic Instagram, documenting our “personal cities” became second nature. From 2015–2017, I offered Seeing the Better City as a deeper dive, beyond show-and-tell declarations, or repetitive illustrations of how the grass is always greener in cities and places where we aren’t now located or never will be. Thanks to coronavirus, its time to revisit those principles, 2020-style.

For some, personal, visual ethnographies were as simple as the ready use of a smartphone and social media sharing of one or more photographs to document daily urban life. Others ( c’est Moi encore), did so on regular walks, documenting potholes, land-use application notices, or various stages of new construction. Concerns about urban life also depended on more poignant events faraway, especially those that occur in iconic, international urban places central to the interpretation of city life and urbanism.

For instance, In post-2015 Paris, London, Nice, and many other cities, the emotional reclaiming process after multiple terror events is part of the inevitable urban dynamic and our human capacity to rebuild. Often this dynamic, when on display, shows uniting rather than divisive themes in the urban landscape. During pandemic life in emergence, visiting and photographing cities can emphasize these positive dynamics, and can inspire how rebuilding and healing processes will unfold.

As I have repeatedly noted here since May, qualitative and interactive experiences, along with comparison, seem more important than assembling smart city “data points”. The qualitative and experiential also adds necessary personal dimensions to media representations of cities undergoing change or facing urban-planning challenges. For instance, actually visiting a place you have read or heard about-such as the changing face of East London -provides a firsthand reference for comparison with…

Chuck Wolfe

Charles R. Wolfe founded the Seeing Better Cities Group in Seattle and London to improve the conversation around how cities grow and evolve across the world.