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How Pandemics Spurred Cities to Make More Green Space for People

April 27, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

From wider, tree-lined boulevards to lush parks, 19th-century cholera pandemics shaped some of the world’s most famous urban landscapes.

Cholera Transforms London and Paris

A satirical cartoon showing the River Thames and its offspring cholera, scrofula and diphtheria, circa 1850s.

As cholera roared through London in 1854 and took the lives of approximately 10,000 of its residents, British physician John Snow mapped instances of the disease in one neighborhood and found a connection not to contaminated air, but to a public well contaminated by leaking sewage. That same year, Italian anatomist Filippo Pacini, isolated the bacterium that caused cholera, but it would be decades before the discovery was widely accepted.

In the interim, raw sewage continued to overflow into the River Thames, and in the summer of 1858 it caused the “Great Stink,” an odor so repugnant it forced the closure of the Houses of Parliament and the construction of a modern sewer system that transported the city’s waste far enough away from London that the river’s tides took it out to sea. In addition, the muddy shorelines of the Thames were narrowed and replaced with embankments with riverside roads and gardens.

Across the English Channel, Emperor Napoleon III came to power in France in 1848 amid a cholera outbreak that took the lives of approximately 19,000 Parisians. An admirer of the parks and garden squares of London, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte sought to remake Paris in the wake of the pandemic. “Let us open new streets, make the working class quarters, which lack air and light, more healthy, and let the beneficial sunlight reach everywhere within our walls,” he declared.

Under the direction of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, French authorities tore down 12,000 buildings, built tree-lined boulevards and parks, erected fountains and installed an elaborate sewage system that transformed Paris into the modern-day “City of Light.”

“Haussmann’s plans were in part designed to bring fresh air and light into the dense urban grid, and were cited as such when inspiring the plans of Chicago and Washington, D.C.,” Carr says, “but it should also be noted that Haussmann’s long boulevards were also a convenient way to eliminate blighted housing, facilitate surveillance and deploy military quickly to all corners of the city.”

READ MORE: Full Pandemics Coverage

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Source: HISTORY

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