How will Covid-19 change the way cities work? | A conversation with global experts (I)

By  | 2020

Since Covid-19 became a global health crisis, cities and citizens from all over the world have witnessed and experienced the urban dimension of the pandemic. Without a doubt, both the impact of the spread of the virus on urban life and the response to the crisis by cities and governments represent a before and after in terms of how urban areas function, are managed and will be planned.

At the same time, the socio-economic challenges brought to the fore by the pandemic force us to rethink how we can better harness technology, innovation and cooperation to move forward towards increasing social and urban resilience.

In this shifting moment, we at CitiesToBe are focused on shedding light on cities’ future, in order to help all the relevant stakeholders involved in the city management and urban life connect the dots regarding the post-pandemic urban world.

This is why we have surveyed a group of leading global urban experts from different fields – urban science and planning, multilateral cooperation, climate change and sustainability – on the future functioning of cities after Covid-19

And here is the first part of our conversation with them.

Carlos Moreno

CARLOS MORENO | @CarlosMorenoFr
Professor at the Sorbonne University
and Mayor of Paris’ Special Representative for Smart Cities

«We need to rethink
our cities’ urban planning
to favor the creation of
economic, ecological and social value
in the proximity.»

«The Covid-19 crisis has shown the strength of cities, because it is a systemic urban crisis of a sanitary nature. The fact of having to silence the city to avoid the spread of the virus shows the need to rethink our cities’ urban planning to, above all, favor the creation of economic, ecological and social value in the proximity.

We must rethink the long journeys that take place within the city to go from point A to point B and the concentrations associated to them. We need to rethink our cities’ mono-specialized focal points and give greater impetus to the polycentric city, to the multipolar and multifunctional city, making accessibility to essential local services a priority, within a maximum distance of 10 to 15 minutes on foot or by bicycle, to create this new multicenter city; what we have called in Paris ‘The 15-Minute City

Catherine DIgnazio

Professor of Urban Science and Planning
at Massachussets Institute of Technology

«The question now
is how can we start
to redesign our city life
with deep consideration
of inequality.»

«This is an opportunity to rethink and to redesign towards achieving equity in the city. One of the lessons from the pandemic is that marginalized groups in different contexts are the hardest hit by the diseaseHere in the United States, Black Americans are dying at much higher rates than white due to the systemic racism which permeates health systems, economic safety nets and more. Right here in my state of Massachusetts, people in the town of Chelsea – mostly immigrants and people of color – are disproportionately dying. Now, Chelsea has high rates of air pollution due to industry located there and people have been connecting the dots between environmental burdens and Covid-19 deaths.

In Singapore, progress on the disease was laudable until cases rose sharply in neglected migrant dormitories. Our communities are only as resilient as our most vulnerable people, and conversely we can only survive pandemics and other crises if we think about our most vulnerable people first. We could have foreseen such vulnerabilities.

Indeed, South Korea shows an impressive example of such consideration given to marginalized groups. Trade unions, NGOs and the civil sector helped to keep the government accountable to immigrants and low-wage workers in the country, and head off any outbreaks in vulnerable communities. The question now is how can we start now to redesign our transit systems, our green spaces, our city services, our built environment and our digital city life with deep consideration of inequality. We have an opportunity to design for resilience across social groups – gender, race, immigration and so on – let’s not squander this moment.»

Elkin Velásquez

ELKIN VELÁSQUEZ | @ElkinVelasquezM
UN-Habitat Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean

«This could unexpectedly result
in a new and more sustainable
functioning of the city
that no one could have anticipated.»

«The pandemic is having a major impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, not only from a health perspective, but also from a humanitarian point of view and with unprecedented socioeconomic consequences.

In an environment of great uncertainty about the future of activity in cities, we know that a significant number of households will fall into poverty and extreme poverty in the region (30 million and 18 million people, respectively, according to ECLAC data). We also know that developing a vaccine will take many months and that in this context, daily social and economic activities will need to be subject to follow strict biosecurity protocols – which include physical distance, isolation and avoiding crowds as behaviors that will become habits. It is also worth mentioning that we will see risk-averse behaviors from individuals at different levels.

New circumstances and features in terms of individual behaviors and valuations may facilitate the acceptance of a new way of life in the city where proximity plays a central role. And the truth is that a city of proximity, which promotes that each neighborhood can count on the infrastructure and the economic offer to satisfy the basic needs of the community, can have a positive impact in terms of reducing emissions, decongestion and optimization of time, coexistence and strengthening of social cohesion. This concept would open the way to the materialization of the ideal polycentric city. Negative circumstances, added to the unexpected effects of adaptation during the pandemic, could unexpectedly result in a new and more sustainable functioning of the city. And no one could have anticipated it.«

Laura Faye

Science & Climate Communicator –
Former Senior Science Editor of NASA’s Global Climate Change website

«This pandemic has given
the environmental groups inspiration
to move toward a cleaner environment –
but we also have the polluters
pushing forward to
continue polluting.»

«The best way to predict what’s going to happen in the future is to look at what’s already happening now: people are traveling less and polluting less. So the water is clear. The air is clear. There’s less airplanes. There’s less cars. Oil prices have plummeted. Electricity use is really down because lots of business are closed. So really, you’ve seen a drastic, drastic reduce.

And as much as this pandemic has given the environmental groups motivation and inspiration to move forward toward a new cleaner environment, we also have the polluters pushing forward to have lax regulations and to continue polluting. I predict that we are going to continue fighting back and forth – and that the pandemic has given ammunition to both sides.

The other thing that people have started to wake up to is food. The way that it is transported from the manufacturer or the grower to the final consumer has really shifted. I think that this Covid-19 pandemic is a rehearsal for climate change, where we are going to see food shortages, we are going to see hoarding. But in the same time, in my community there has been groups that have sprung up: people have been sharing food, canning food, growing their own food. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have for the first time planted a garden and started doing composting. Even apartment dwellers are planning tomatoes and planters on their on their porches. So there’s a lot of home gardeners and a lot of home sharing of food. And I think that is what’s going to start to happen as well with climate change.»

Emilia Saiz

Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)

«We cannot go to
the business-as-usual model
once the ideas of a basic income,
of housing for all,
of protecting the commons,
have been introduced

«The Covid-19 pandemic is working as magnifying glass that highlights the aspects in which we were already behind, at a global scale, and this includes the deficiencies of the international system. UCLG is already thinking about the aftermath, about how societies will look in the post-Covid-19 era. We have produced a Decalogue that will guide our international advocacy and aims to transform how the governance system interacts with communities by protecting those that need it the most, transforming the multilateral system, and ensuring that the sacrifices that we are undertaking do not become a burden for the communities of the future.

In times of crisis, we are demonstrating that we can put service provision, and care for service providers, at the forefront. We cannot go to the business-as-usual model once the ideas of a basic income, of housing for all, of protecting the commons, have been introduced.

Solidarity has become a beacon of security in this crisis, and it needs to guide transformation in the aftermath. We will need a renewed multilateral system, with inclusivity to ensure that the wants and needs of citizens are present within all governance mechanisms Local and regional governments will be the guardians of this international solidarity.»

➕ Read the second part of the conversation:

Technology and innovation in post-pandemic cities: How will priorities change?
A conversation with global experts (II)

?? How will #Covid19 change the way cities work? ? Here is what global urban experts @CarlosMorenoFR, @Kanarinka, @ElkinVelasquezM, @LauraFayeTen and @UCLG_Saiz told us: Click to tweet!

Carlos Moreno and Elkin Velásquez’s contributions to this article have been translated from Spanish by Sergio García i Rodríguez, Communications Manager of anteverti and co-director of CitiesToBe, who has also edited the article | Header picture by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash.

➕ Want to keep reading?

Take a look at our
‘Covid-19 & the Future of Cities’


About the authors

Professor at the Sorbonne University & Mayor of Paris’ Special Representative for Smart Cities | + posts

Carlos Moreno was born in Colombia in 1959 and moved to France at the age of 20. He is an Associate Professor at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne / IAE Sorbonne Business School and the Scientific Director and co-founder of the ETI Chair ('Entrepreneurship, Territory, Innovation'). He is an international expert of the Human Smart City and a Knight of the French Legion of Honour since 2010.

As a scientist and humanist, Carlos Moreno describes his exceptional career as a path guided through and through by passion: a passion not only for innovation, creativity and exploration but also one for sharing, connecting, and building ties with others. A journey on which he has explored a variety of disciplines and fields in a wide range of spheres – teaching, research, business and industry – strong in his conviction that innovation springs from interaction among them.

Since February 2015, Professor Carlos Moreno is the Mayor of Paris’ Special Envoy for Smart Cities.

Professor of Urban Science and Planning at Massachussets Institute of Technology | + posts

Catherine D’Ignazio is an Assistant Professor of Urban Science and Planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, where she is the Director of the Data + Feminism Lab.

She is also a hacker mama and artist/designer who focuses on feminist technology, data literacy and civic engagement. She has run women’s health hackathons, designed global news recommendation systems, created talking and tweeting water quality sculptures, and led walking data visualizations to envision the future of sea level rise.

Her forthcoming book from MIT Press, Data Feminism, co-authored with Lauren Klein, charts a course for more ethical and empowering data science practices.

Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at UN-Habitat | + posts

Elkin Velásquez Monsalve is the Regional Director of UN-Habitat in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Elkin has wide experience in the field, particularly in Latin America, assisting national and local governments in areas like urban governance, territorial planning, urban safety and area-based public policies. He also developed research in these areas and taught at several universities, and has been an advisor to the Secretary of the Government of Bogotá, the Ministry of the Interior, the Governor of Antioquia and the Vice Presidency of the Republic in Colombia, as well as to UNDP.

He studied Public Administration at the ENA (French National School of Public Administration); obtained a Ph.D. in Geography, specializing in Territorial Policy and Planning, at the University of Grenoble (France); and did graduate in Engineering at the National University of Colombia in Medellin.

Science communicator · former senior Science Editor of NASA’s Global Climate Change website | + posts

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is an award-winning globally recognized innovator in science and climate communication. She is the former Senior Science Editor of NASA’s Global Climate Change website at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she reported on sea level rise, ice mass loss, climate modeling, anthropogenic climate forcing and regional climate impacts. She was chosen to travel to Greenland multiple times with NASA suborbital campaigns to report on new research into the rate of ice mass loss around Greenland’s coastline being studied for the first time.

Tenenbaum has been an adjunct professor in the Physical Science Department at Glendale Community College, where she taught for 13 years.

She also wrote, produced and edited an oceanography video series to accompany Pearson Higher Education’s Essentials of Oceanography textbook.

Secretary General at United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) | + posts

Emilia Saiz is the Secretary General of UCLG having previously served as Deputy General Secretary of UCLG for the last few years.

She has worked with the international movement of local and regional governments in different fields since 1998. Some key areas of her work during her career years have been the strengthening of capacities of the Local Government Associations, the promotion of the participation of women in local decision-making and the strengthening of the role of local governments before the United Nations.

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