“What ended the Dark Ages?” asks one of Japan’s most prominent systems scientists as we settle in a yakitori restaurant off a busy street in central Tokyo. Around the table, researchers and practitioners in disaster risk reduction, urban planning, sustainability sciences, and humanitarian aid have come together for a workshop on urban resilience. While historians moved away from using the term “Dark Ages” due to its inaccuracy, we conclude that it was the plague that paved the gruesome way for enlightenment as it radically disrupted society, eroded faith in the dominant institutions of the day, and gave more bargaining power to the surviving lower classes as they became more valuable to the landlords. Looking back at this conversation, what can historical experience teach us about the current global pandemic? What can we learn from the stark variation in the ability of different nations to manage the COVID-19 outbreak while simultaneously addressing the deep-rooted crises of inequality and climate change?
In this issue we focus on the future. Instead of looking at global models and quantitative extrapolations that have been extensively covered elsewhere (yet have failed to ignite needed action), we take a very personal, reflective look at our profession.