Cities areon the frontline of responsesto the COVID-19 crisis. Theyplay a key role to implement nation-wide measures, but also provide laboratories for bottom-upandinnovative recovery strategies. COVID-19 acceleratedthe shift towards a new urban paradigmtowards inclusive, green and smart cities. This policy note draws 10 key lessons from the crisis to build back better cities.
1.COVID-19 had asymmetrical impactsacross territories but many policy responses were place-blind and uniform, highlighting the need forplace-basedand people-centred approaches.
2.Thehealth crisis turned into a major economic and social shock; and cities’ exposure and recovery depends on industrial composition, labour market breakdown and trade openness.
3.The rediscovery of proximity provides a windowto shift faster from a targetofincreasingmobilityto one ofenhancingaccessibilitybyrevisiting public space, urban design & planning.
4.The crisis strikingly exposed inequalityacross people and places, especially in large cities, where vulnerablegroups such as migrants, the poor, women and the elderly were hit hard.
5.The health problem is notrelated tourban density but rather to structural inequalitiesand the quality of urbanisation; and the urban premium will likely not turn into an urban penalty as agglomeration benefits continue to prevail;
6.Digitalisation, a major game changer during the crisis, will remain a key component of a “new normal”, although teleworking ability varies both across and within countries.
7.The“Zoom effect” and “Greta effect”accelerated environmental awareness, making the transition towards clean mobility and circular economy morepolitically and socially acceptable.
8.COVID-19 bearsimplications for governance, with citizens’trust in governments increasing in some countries, especially for local politicians, and decreasing in others.
9.TheCOVID-19 shock calls for a stronger focus onresilience; preparedness to future shocks requires managing WHO does WHAT at WHICH scale and HOW for more resilient cities.
10.Global agendassuch as the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda, and the Sendai Framework are both timely and relevant to reshape planning, policy, strategy and budget from the ground up.
After devising short term and crisis management responses related to social distancing,workplace and commuting, vulnerable groups,local service delivery, support to businessand citizen engagement, cities started shaping long-term recovery strategies formore inclusive, green and smart cities.
To close the gap and address structural inequality in the recovery period, cities have taken many inclusive measures, especially for local business support and employment, affordable housing construction and renovation, and support to vulnerable households.
Many cities are already planning for life after COVID-19 with a range of investments to pair economic recovery with environmental sustainability with an emphasis on clean forms ofurban mobility and energy efficiency.
The pivotal role of digitalisation in emergency responses to the pandemic has pushed many cities to systematisethe use of smart city tools more permanently, while staying alert and monitoring the risk of contagion. The virtual space is further becoming integral as information, participation, cultural resources and municipal services are digitalised.However, cities cannot fix the magnitude of the challenge on their own. Recovery from the crisisshould bea shared responsibility acrossall levels of government; which should leverage financial resources and good governance to deliver opportunities for all, totransition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy; and to improve resident’s well-being and foster inclusive growthnow and in the future.
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