Is density exacerbating the COVID crisis? What would Jesus say about density? by Jill Shook

26 Apr

Greek villageToday I read a slanted article in the LA Times suggesting that urban density is bad because it doesn’t allow for social distancing. On the surface this may seem true, but it went on to say the opposite.

NY City’s Manhattan district with some of the highest density shows the lowest rate of the virus, while poorer areas where people color live are the hardest hit. Early social distancing helped slow the virus in other cities that are very dense. San Francisco Bay area has had only 1,300 cases and  LA has had only 1,900, with some neighborhoods, believe it or not, surpassing the density’s of NY. Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, some of the highest density cities in the world, have had a fraction of the cases compared to NY.  Density is not the problem. See: .Virus ruins state’s plan for urban density

One of my doctoral courses had us climbing to the top of a high rise apartment building in Hong Kong to meet families living on the roof with just a few boards and bunks to create a home for themselves. I was appalled at seeing this utter poverty amidst such wealth in all the stories below. Anthony Manousos, my husband, can’t get out of his mind a picture he saw of 400 sq ft studio apartment in Hollywood where three families are jammed into a tiny space with bunk beds stacked up to the ceiling. These images remind us of why higher density that requires  affordable housing is needed so that such families can have their own place where they can social distance. Social distancing  is a privilege that higher income folks with spacious housing can afford. If you are infected with COVID 19, you should self-quarantine for 14 days, keep 6 feet away from others, and use a separate room and bathroom if possible. This is not possible for many poor families. See: Overcrowding in LA may fuel spread of the virus The argument going around that density is bad is just not true. We need more housing that people can afford so they don’t need to overcrowd.

This is what is bad: Poverty, racism and over-crowding. The poor  have little chance to build up savings. They have to work. They go out using pubic transport, and work in crowded conditions to pick, prepare and package our food and provide so many of the services we enjoy.  Access to affordable good health care,  fair wages, just hiring practices, safe places to work, and zoning that allows for higher density are all solutions to the racial divide we are seeing today in statistics on who is being infected with COVID 19 .

Density is good as long as it requires affordability and green construction to mitigate the climate crisis. If we keep spreading our cities out, requiring more cars and gas, with long distances to places of work, worship and play, we are going in the wrong direction to help save our planet.

Anthony and I had the privilege of going to Greece a few years ago to visit his wonderful Greek relatives and meet my brother and his wife on Crete. (They were on holiday from Australia where they live).  We passed through countless small villages that were gone with a blink of an eye because they were so dense. We climbed up long stairs in the heart of these white and blue buildings, with one home on top others and few, if any cars in sight. Villagers didn’t need them. Everything was so dense you could easily walk to where you needed to be. I could imagine that these towns and villages must have been similar to what it was like at the time of Jesus.

I just did a search on “crowds” in the Bible. This word is mentioned 226 times from Genesis to Revelation. How could the prophets, Jesus, Peter and Paul share their messages without a crowd? At times, Jesus took crowds with him to the the countryside where he feed 5,000 and more.  Other times he walked the streets and people like the woman with an issue of blood came to him in a crowd. Sometimes the crowds were so big that short people l like me had to climb trees to see Jesus. And other times Jesus was so tired of the crowds he left to be alone.  After the death of Jesus, even the disciples were in a upper room–an indication of density. So what would Jesus say about density? I think he would support it, as long as it meant that those most vulnerable could have a place of their own to stay safe.. and especially in a time of pandemic.

“Everyone will live in peace and prosperity, enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees, for there will be nothing to fear.” Micah 4:4

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