This policy note provides analysis on issues related to the economic, social and environmental impacts, lessons learned in terms of digitalisation, mobility, density, urban design and collaborative governance, and action-oriented guidance to build back better cities, building on previous work on urban resilience and in the context of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVIF-19).
The note draws ten key lessons from the crisis to build back better cities:
- COVID-19 had asymmetrical impacts across territories but many policy responses were place-blind and uniform, highlighting the need for place-based and people-centred approaches.
- The health crisis turned into a major economic and social shock; and cities’ exposure and recovery depend on industrial composition, labour market breakdown and trade openness.
- The rediscovery of proximity provides a window to shift faster from target-increasing mobility to one of enhancing accessibility by revisiting public space, urban design and planning.
- The crisis strikingly exposed inequality across people and places, especially in large cities, where vulnerable groups such as migrants, the poor, women and the elderly were hit hard.
- The health problem is not related to urban density but rather to structural inequalities and the quality of urbanisation; the urban premium will likely not turn into an urban penalty as agglomeration benefits continue to prevail;
- 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.
- The “Zoom effect” and “Greta effect” accelerated environmental awareness, making the transition towards clean mobility and the circular economy more politically and socially acceptable.
- COVID-19 bears implications for governance, with citizens trust in governments increasing in some countries, especially for local politicians, and decreasing in others.
- The COVID-19 shock calls for a stronger focus on resilience; preparedness to future shocks requires managing WHO does WHAT at WHICH scale and HOW for more resilient cities.
- Global agendas such 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.