In these challenging times, I feel we are “riders on the storm”, like the Doors sang. The deconfinement measures seem to have brought life progressively back to normal and the numbers look better. However, I think “there’s a killer [still] on the road” and the storm is not over. Actually, I believe the pandemic has only exposed the many storms we were riding on already pre-COVID and made them both more visible and worse.
The virus has now taken priority among people’s preoccupations but as cities we have been responding to these other crisis for a while: raising inequalities; poverty and discrimination; a roaring climate emergency; underinvestment in our health systems, education and in so many other public services and goods; institutional disenchantment and governance gaps. Such intersecting problems have been concentrated in urban life, making it increasingly difficult for the parts of the population that are not wealthy. Think of the serious lack of affordable housing across European cities; or how, in the last decade, work has become even more precarious and inadequately paid in many sectors like tourism, culture and the gig economy; how discrimination and poverty have risen; think of the digital divide, or worst of all, people having basic food or basic material needs. The pandemic has exacerbated all of this.
That is why creating a positive urban future will be about finding the way to navigate through these multiple storms at the same time and paradoxically this crisis has created a unique opportunity and hope to do just that. A lot of the solutions are already there. We will need two things though: a broader and clear political will to recognise and rethink more deeply what was not working already and the openness to new models, approaches and values. For cities it is about how to become more inclusive, being able to invest in social and human capital and local solidarity as a way to build appropriate capacities to navigate through this crisis of crisis, and so much more. Innovation, creativity, integrated visions, co-construction, new financing models are all examples of terrains that cities have been positively experimenting with, and for which they now need the understanding and priority support from other levels of government and societal players.
I am convinced this is the way for Europe to become resilient and create a better future. To achieve this, as our mayors told the EU institutions last week, we need a European pact for and with cities.