Cities have always been places of hope and inspiration, places that allow innovation. But the pandemic has exposed some of its great shortcomings. Sometimes different groups live together but with very little interaction and mutual support and / or not all can participate in decision-making about their own neighborhoods and / or resources are used unevenly and often unsustainably. The result is that urban areas do not live up to expectations. A key question is, therefore, how do you achieve the potential that each city has to unleash lasting and sustainable change?
The pandemic has shown some weaknesses in our cities. Starting with seeing how the spread of the virus in densely populated areas has been facilitated. In addition, with the confinement we saw how the inhabitants who live in small flats with little or no outside areas, such as parks or gardens, are at a disadvantage. Urban green areas are often scarcer in low-income communities, complicating social distancing and forcing families to stay indoors with very few outdoor recreation options. Hence, urban living conditions, already disadvantaged, were further affected.
Urban green areas are often scarcer in low-income communities, complicating social distancing and forcing families to stay indoors with very few recreational options.
But the covid has also helped us to see the factors that really matter to lead a healthy and livable urban life: the importance of equitable access to local green areas that is essential for physical and mental health. Although this is not only true for a pandemic, it is clear that it also teaches us lessons for urban development in general so that we can prepare our cities for the future. In line with the “Rebuild Better” paradigm of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, we must urgently think about the transformation of urban sustainability and its components. This obviously includes the application of key learnings around urban patterns and designs that, for example, include community green spaces.
At the same time, we need to think much more holistically than planners and decision makers do today. During the pandemic, almost all countries and cities faced supply shortages at some point, demonstrating their fragility and the comparable benefits of local and urban agriculture. This also reduces the ecological footprint of cities and therefore helps to protect our environment. In addition, urban agriculture and other open spaces have been shown to help reduce the impact of torrential rains and floods. You have to take much more into account these collateral benefits, but to make them happen we have to start thinking big.
What has become really clear, among other things, is the importance of contacts and social networks. The community-based approaches They have supported families during the pandemic, for example when neighbors have supported the elderly and other vulnerable groups with shopping, or with overwhelmed health services during the most intense phase of the pandemic. Although this may seem more relevant in informal urban contexts in emerging and developing economies, the importance of urban neighborhoods and neighborhood assistance has also been demonstrated in more developed countries. This is an important lesson that could and should be applied to other urban challenges such as reducing the impacts of climate change and disasters.
This in no way implies that such solutions should replace the real tasks of urban public administrations, but rather that they can complement their work. What is needed is an urban development approach that is socially just, resource efficient and respectful of the environment. It is necessary to develop and implement strategies that aim to achieve multiple objectives at the same time.
It is necessary to develop and implement strategies that aim to achieve multiple objectives at the same time
Forming innovative urban coalitions between actors who have not necessarily worked together in the past can also help. This could include, for example, listening to epidemiologists and biologists to pay more attention to nature-based approaches and the protection of biodiversity in cities to prevent the spread of future pandemics.
It could be a strategic alliance with artists or filmmakers to better inform about the urgency to act and reach different groups in society. And, ultimately, it should be about forming alliances between different urban groups that might have divergent interests at first glance, but that might well be aligned under the umbrella of forming better and more sustainable cities in the future. Fortunately, there are already promising approaches. There are global alliances that take their responsibility very seriously. There are participatory approaches in urban planning. And there are youth-led initiatives that force us all to accelerate action. Our cities are not unchangeable. We have the power to reach your potential, and fortunately we don’t have to start from scratch.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.