Cities have been on the front lines in stepping up policy responses and emergency measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. As the level of government closest to citizens and as essential providers of social, economic, care and transport services, cities’ swift interventions to help the most in need have been crucial in promoting social equality and inclusion when it has been most at risk.
Cites have been responsible for communicating and persuading people to respect containment measures, to mobilise healthcare and social support to the most in need, sometimes stretching the limits to make it possible to meet new demands such as food delivery or creating new shelter facilities for the homelessness. Cities also quickly moved many services online, such as training, education, culture, and adapted other essential services, such as transport and child-care facilities, to minimise the spread of the virus. By mobilising volunteers and coordinating civil society efforts to ensure personalised support to the most in need, allocating emergency funds to support local businesses, introducing tax breaks and income support measures, providing children from disadvantaged families with laptops for home schooling, and any number of other activities and support measures, cities have shown they are able to act faster than national governments and cover gaps in national welfare measures.
An opportunity to build back better with more resilient, sustainable and inclusive cities
It is an often-quoted maxim that every crisis presents an opportunity – but this is precisely the gallant spirit with which cities have faced this crisis: head on and by doing what they can. Through their speedy interventions, ready support to people and businesses, and focus on continuity in the delivery of essential care and services, cities have started to set the tone for recovery. Already now we see how the massive disruption caused by COVID-19 to daily activities has accelerated some of the trends that are at the heart of our urban vision for the future: the digital, just and sustainable transitions, in line with European ambitions. We have witnessed instances of better air quality, with a sharp decrease in carbon emissions. We have seen that urban life with less cars and more public space for people is not only desirable but perfectly feasible.
Turning the crisis into a longer term opportunity for systemic change will not happen automatically. The right mix of well planned-policy interventions have to be put in place – something that Eurocities is committed to driving and accelerating. In this way our European commitments to the Paris Agreement, the European Green Deal and the European Pillar of Social Rights can be realised.
Cities are already showing leadership in the recovery process. We have invested in new cycle paths and created more walkable and car free areas, we are supporting local food production and consumption. We are building coalitions with local businesses and civil society to be more innovative and develop new business models based on the digital, circular and social economy.
This is only the beginning. To continue moving in this direction, we need to close the gap of the last ten years of underinvestment at local level. The economic cost of years of cutting on health provision and infrastructure is now unquestionable and the way to build a more resilient society is to boost local investment in green, digital and social infrastructures. We also need to work with the worlds of science, academia and research to boost innovation and to continue co-creating solutions with our citizens, as well as within our wider metropolitan and surrounding rural areas.
Showing European solidarity
Nobody can respond to this unprecedented crisis alone, all levels of governments, whether local, national or European, need to work together.
As European cities we stand in solidarity through the crisis and beyond. We have already supported each other during the crisis as Eurocities through fora such as our online city dialogues to learn from each other on how to deal with the pandemic, how to readapt services and use new technologies, how to prevent deepening social inequalities and how to prepare recovery plans based on sustainable and inclusive models.
The way towards recovery will be long and there are undoubtedly many uncertainties ahead, but it is also our chance to rebuild and re-imagine our urban future. We will continue to work in this direction to make sure we are better prepared for future shocks and for improving the quality of life of all our citizens.
Like what you read? We’ll be discussing all of these topics and more this Wednesday when we discuss how cities can build back better.