Cities: build networks and share plans to emerge stronger from COVID-19

Related GLP Member: Harini Nagendra

Cities are epicentres of the COVID-19 pandemic. From Wuhan to Madrid to São Paulo, the scenes have been grim — wards bursting with patients, queues of refrigerated lorries acting as temporary mortuaries, food-bank lines snaking around empty streets. At the same time, people and animals have thronged streets and parks, while carbon emissions and smog levels have plummeted from New Mexico to Delhi.

COVID-19 is still running its course. The immediate aftershocks — job losses, poverty, food scarcity — need addressing urgently. But much has been learnt. The experience is already motivating change.

In May, mayors from 38 of the world’s largest cities — including Hong Kong, Los Angeles in California and Durban in South Africa — announced a set of principles for redesigning their metropolises to be more sustainable and equitable. Combating climate change is one priority of the Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force. Milan, Paris, Bogota and Barcelona, for example, will close areas to motorized traffic, expand pavements and increase cycling lanes.

Initiatives such as these are welcome. But cities need an extensive rethink of how they are governed and run. They need to strengthen leadership and health-care systems, improve how they communicate, source more food, goods and services locally, give a greater priority to nature and combat inequalities.

One action, above all — strengthening and extending networks within and between cities — will make urban regions more resilient to future pandemics and other crises such as climate change1,2. By building links now, cities will be better placed to act quickly and be able to give or receive help from others when another disaster strikes.