This article is part of the series ‘Covid-19 & The Future of Cities’ – by anteverti
Editor’s note | This article was published in May 2020. For a more recent analysis on the urban impact of Covid-19, please check our new series ‘One Year After’: Urban Learnings from a Year of Pandemic — published in March 2021.
The world is facing a pandemic at a global scale, whose effects are being felt more acutely in cities. Global problems urge global solutions, and one of the key lessons learned from this pandemic is that no city is big enough to face this pandemic alone, and that collaboration between different levels of governments is key.
But how can multi-level cooperation help cities emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic? Why will it be important for cities to strengthen metropolitan governance and alliances in the post-Covid era? Here is our analysis.
1 | International Relations Are a Key Instrument for Cities to Find Shared Solutions
(Also in Times of Pandemics)
The spread of Covid-19 has been uneven among different regions of the world, and this has led to some cities having to deal with the health emergency situation before others. At a time when it is imperative to find quick solutions, local governments have been able to make good use of established international networks and relationships with other cities to share the knowledge gained in pandemic management as quickly and effectively as possible.
This has confirmed the importance of the internationalization of cities as an instrument that goes far beyond symbolism, and that has been vital in responding to local problems. City networks such as UCLG, Metropolis or C40 have also been an important player, as the articulating agent of these relations between local governments.
2 | Unity among Cities Gives them Greater Weight on the Global Political Stage
Cities represent demographic concentrations and are the economic core of regions and countries. They therefore have a huge responsibility and are assuming a leading role in proposing political solutions to the crisis.
At the European level, while the pandemic has seriously affected the whole region, the social and economic impact is predicted to be felt more acutely in the southern countries. In a moment when all eyes are on the response of the European Union, the mayors of Paris, Amsterdam, Milan and Barcelona have come together to demand not to apply austerity measures as a way out to the economic crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, they have jointly asked for a north-south solidarity response, including the possibility for cities to directly access the structural funds recently unblocked by the European Commission. As they argue, “cities are the first administration level to which citizens go when they have difficulties”, and thus their voice needs to be included in any response not only to the current health crisis, but also the climate and migrant ones.
3 | A Coordinated Metropolitan Strategic Vision Ensures a More Efficient and Sustainable Response to the Crisis
From a global point of view, cities share common challenges and problems. Although the way of responding to these challenges and how cities bring solutions to various problems does not have to be the same, the impact of the decisions made by each of them transcends beyond their municipal terms.
Some issues, especially those related to mobility, waste management, or the provision of basic services such as water and energy, are common among all urban concentrations, and require a global strategic vision for a better use of public resources. In addition, a global strategic vision could help to achieve scale advantages, which are crucial in order to be more sustainable when deploying the same public services in different municipalities of the same geography. From the point of view of the local administrations, Covid-19 has put onto the table the need to carry out a coordinated strategy able to respond to the current health emergency and the forthcoming social and economic crisis. Some examples are the closing of parks and other public areas simultaneously in the municipalities of the Barcelona metropolitan area and a moratorium on the payment of rents by the AMB (IMPSOL).
4 | Homogenizing Mobility under a Metropolitan Approach Will Enable a Faster Economic Reactivation
The successful economic reactivation will also rely on the improvement in the mobility efficiency at a metropolitan level, while it seems also clear that the change in consumption habits prompted by Covid-19 is going to create a new way of mobility – which will take into account the transport of products from factories and warehouses directly to households.
In terms of mobility, metropolitan areas will then acquire a leading role. Therefore, it will be necessary for them to develop global and inclusive mobility strategies connected to this new metropolitan scenario. To achieve that goal, local and metropolitan authorities have to push hard on regulatory homogenization and enable new business models in mobility, in order to maximize their capacity to expand thanks to scale advantages and network economies while neutralizing negative externalities. The incorporation and promotion of systemic solutions in the post-Covid-19 metropolitan mobility schemes – such as a shared distribution system for companies in order to reduce costs, now that online demand has grown significantly – will also be key.
5 | Science Diplomacy and Multi-Stakeholder Alliances:
The Path to Health Resilience
In addition to building relationships with their peers, cities also need to establish alliances with other actors. We have previously addressed the importance of multi-level governance, placing the focus on the collaborations established at the metropolitan level, but multi-stakeholder alliances are just as important.
The scientific dimension of the health crisis has once again put on the table the importance of working from the local level on alliances with research centers, non-profits, startups, corporations and the entire knowledge and innovation ecosystem. The pandemic has left us with very valuable examples of collaborations between cities and the private sector or civil society to obtain medical supplies, such as the case of Barcelona’s alliance with the ‘makers’ community. Such collaborations can be strengthened when combined with a scientific diplomacy strategy, which can help the city strengthen alliances with key actors.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
THE TIME TO HARNESS THE POTENTIAL OF COLLABORATION, JOINT STRATEGIES AND INTERNATIONALIZATION
As a global problem, it seems clear that the way to tackle it has to rely on a strong collaboration between institutions and cities at a local, regional and international level. In this context, the provision of public services has to be rapidly adjusted to new demands and social needs, making it mandatory to design joint, metropolitan, collaborative strategies in order to better mitigate the effect of the forthcoming crisis.
When planning, ordering and developing their alliances and collaborations with other urban areas and relevant actors, cities can find in internationalization an effective and efficient tool to harness the potential that all this implies, to access more ways of action and financing and, in short, to become more resilient.
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About the authors
Pilar Conesa is a Smart City pioneer and the founder and CEO of Anteverti. She is also the Curator of the Smart City Expo World Congress — as well as its interational spin-offs.
With more than 30 years of experience in high management positions in ICT companies and public organizations, she served as CIO for the Barcelona City Council and as General Director of Public Sector and Health at T-Systems.
She is the President of the Business Council of BITHabitat and a member of the Advisory Board of Digital Future Society, the General Council of Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Board of Trustees of EADA Business School. She is a regular keynote speaker and has been selected as jury member for several international awards – World Smart City Awards, Reinventer Paris, Le Monde-Cities. Pilar is the first woman to be awarded the honorary prize of 'La Nit de les Telecomunicacions i la Informàtica' of Catalonia.
Marta Galceran is one of anteverti's senior consultants at and has lead projects for UN-Habitat, the European Union or the Inter-American Development Bank. Marta is also part of the congress team of the Smart City Expo World Congress since 2014, and currently works as its Programme Coordinator.
Marta Galceran is a political scientist specialized in global governance and sustainable urban development, as well as in international strategies for local governments. She holds a Master in International Politics summa cum laude (University of Warwick) and is currently finishing a PhD in cities and global governance (UPF).
She has more than 8 years of professional experience as a researcher and project manager in research centers (CIDOB, KIga, UB), public sector organizations (Kreuzberg Museum for Urban Development of Berlin) and local governments (Diputació de Barcelona). At the same time, she has written papers for several think tanks and been associated professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF).
Sergio García i Rodríguez is an expert in strategic communication, internationalization, and new digital narratives with over 10 years of experience working for international organizations, the press, and the private sector. Since 2018, he has served as the Head of Communication at Anteverti, the executive editor of their knowledge platform, CitiesToBe, and a senior consultant.
Sergio's projects have included assisting Seoul in designing its new Smart City Brand, conceptualizing the narrative of the New Urban Agenda of Catalonia, and creating various concept stands for the city of Barcelona at the Smart City Expo World Congress. Before this role, he led and implemented strategies and initiatives at the UNDP, T-Systems, and Agencia Efe. He holds a master's degree in International Studies, a postgraduate degree in Digital Content, and a bachelor's degree in Translation.
Albert Tapia is an expert in the analysis of new business models, in developing case studies on city issues and in H2020 European projects.
Since 2020, Albert has been working at anteverti as a consultant, doing qualitative and quantitative research in the field of smart cities and participating in the development of technical proposals and consulting projects for clients at the local, regional and international levels.
He holds a degree in Economics and a Master's degree in Smart Cities by the Universitat de Girona. He has previously worked for the PPP for Cities and the Public-Private Sector Research Center, both at the IESE Business School.