When looking at the past year and a half in lockdown, it is easy to say everyone’s experiences were similar—all were required to be on lockdown at home, masks were mandatory in public, and any travel or signs of symptoms of the infection were met with obligatory days of self-quarantine. However, when looking at the statistics of the pandemic, we find that some populations and communities were affected at different rates and in different ways; everyone had problems, but the problems themselves were different. In particular, due to preexisting socioeconomic disparities, lower-income groups of the population were, and still are, more prone to disease and need of basic necessities when compared to the middle and upper class and, as we’ll see, this has been upheld throughout time. Because of this, there is a need for greater systems of equity and disaster prevention in place within the lower class—whether that be universal systems of disease prevention and management or putting emphasis on the structure of cities and building code requirements.
The relationship between poverty-struck communities and disease isn’t a new phenomenon. Looking at the Booth Maps, we see that there is a direct correlation between the lower class of London and their susceptibility to disease and overcoming it. In all, these maps lead to the thinking of ideas such as universal old-age pension, a system of support for lower-class populations, and expansion of the city—the same can be, and should be, seen in today’s day and age. According to SAVI, a program within the Polis Center at IUPUI that looks at bringing forward statistics and information to the greater online community, the residents and ZIP codes surrounding downtown Indianapolis had higher rates of economic impact when compared to their counterparts situated within the city. To look at a specific example, “Martindale Brightwood had 127.6 unemployment claims each week between March and August for every 1,000 people in the labor force…twice the average rate for a ZIP code,” furthermore, “between the first and second quarter of 2020, 46218 also had 30 more 2-1-1 calls per 1,000 residents, three times the average ZIP code” (SAVI). And the list of disparities and statistics has not been exhausted here, however, such statistics do not put what is felt by lower-income individuals and families forward.
In an IndyStar interview given by Carla Garcia, in light of her experience with the pandemic and being a low-income family, she brings forth images of the pandemic not understood by middle and upper classes or city and government officials that have not been affected the same way. Garcia mentions the stress felt by her four children and learning from home: She, along with her husband, now had to provide full-time meals, which was only possible due to receiving a donation of a microwave; the family falling under a zone which, internet provider, Spectrum deemed worthy of free internet access for two months; and the ability to purchase basic groceries due to both parents now being unemployed. Furthermore, as their living conditions continued to be subpar, finding a new home was not an easy task as all landlords failed to return her calls. And, even through all these difficulties, Garcia admits that there are families in worse situations, families who deal with suicides in the family, child abuse, alcohol and drug use, depression, and domestic violence—one can only imagine what said individuals must be feeling.
Although there are a number of problems being faced by the community, past outbreaks and city projects due to disease can be looked upon for reference for how we, as a society, can stay proactive in preventing the problems faced by any individual or population in need of assistance. In The Bacteriological City and Its Discontents by Matthew Gandy, the problems associated with urban living conditions is brought forward. Gandy mentions, for example, things like stagnant water and air were hosts for the spread of disease and this, in turn, led to the making of “bacteriological” cities which emphasized the need for flowing streams of water/sewers and proper systems of ventilation. Furthermore, Gandy states, “The relationship between poverty, disease and the physical environment remained a confused arena in the pre-bacteriological era in part because few professional discourses engaged with urban problems in any systematic way that might enable the political, economic, and technical spheres to be considered in relation to one another” (15-16)—these same spheres should be looked at today. However, what can be done in light of all of this?
In all, when looking at Gandy’s work on The Bacteriological City, we find that problems faced in the past, like stagnant air, are still relevant in today’s age. The renovation of cities in the 19th – 20th century were based on diseases faced at the time and we must now look to the times of the Covid-19 Pandemic to plan for future urban spaces. In particular, we can look at the housing situations of the lower class and see, if an individual were in need of quarantine, would they be able to do so with the proper ventilation and their own room/bathroom? Or would the building of new urban spaces be appropriate to erect in different locations of the city as suggested by Charles Booth? When looking towards the experiences of Mrs.Garcia, would it be possible for internet accessibility to be a universal commodity for all socioeconomic classes?
And how may basic utilities, such as microwave ovens, be necessary when looking at items to be given to such individuals/families? Although it is true that there are underprivileged citizens and residents of America, the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a fundamental concept that is required to be upheld by our American Government upon all individuals, with equity, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Gandy, Matthew. “The Bacteriological City and Its Discontents.” Historical Geography, vol. 34.
Hackney, Suzette. “Hackney: We’re All Scared. But Coronavirus Presents a Catastrophic Threat to Indy’s Poor.” The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Star, 22 Mar. 2020, www.indystar.com/story/opinion/columnists/suzette-hackney/2020/03/22/coronavir us-indiana-could-crush-indianapolis-poor-suzette-hackney-writes/5058157002/
“Health and Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Neighborhoods.” SAVI, 18 Mar. 2021, www.savi.org/feature_report/health-and-economic-impact-of-covid-19-on-neighbor hoods/
Map: Charles Booth’s LONDON. booth.lse.ac.uk/map