Joint organiser: Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility, and Urban Agenda (MITMA)

This Policy Lab built on the EUKN ‘Thinking Beyond the Crisis’ series, exploring the urban impacts of the coronavirus outbreak in EUKN member countries. The webinar offered a platform to reflect on cities rethinking their approach to urban space in light of COVID-19, focusing on urban health as a holistic concept interwoven with everyday life.

After an overview of city actions and policy responses from Eurocities, urban strategies from Barcelona, Torrent, Paris and Milan were presented (details below). Participants then moved on to discuss four key urban health themes: sustainable mobility and transport, health and urban planning, inequality and the social dimension, and national urban policies.


Expert contributions

Bianca Faragau-Tavares

Senior Policy Advisor, Eurocities

Eurocities’ research showed the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 hit the local level hardest. Drops in employment coincided with increasing demand for digitalisation, forcing urban areas to adapt. The pandemic exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and put new groups at risk of poverty, pressurising health and social systems. Cities proactively implemented emergency actions (such as shelter capacity extension), mitigation actions (tax breaks) and recovery strategies (calls for start-ups to digitise urban services). Moving ahead, cities have a crucial chance to adopt green, just and people-centred approaches, and to promote these with higher governance bodies.

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Lorena Perona

Housing and Urban Planning Office, Provincial Deputation of Barcelona

Building from evidence that urban planning is an effective tool to promote health, Barcelona’s Urban Environment and Health project aims to create urban environments that encourage healthy resident behaviour and minimise environmental risk factors for health. In line with the Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU) and the Spanish Urban Agenda (SUA), the project’s multidisciplinary team supports local municipalities to design pilots and action plans with an urban health lens. While the team continues to work on actioning beyond scientific findings and putting theory into practice, the COVID-19 health crisis reinforced the relevance of its people-centred approach.

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Andrés Campos Casado

Strategy, Innovation and Economy Advisor, Municipality of Torrent

Torrent aims to become a reference city for digital and sustainable transitions, digitalising municipal services, reducing road traffic impact and fighting energy poverty even pre-pandemic. Pre-existing institutional flexibility and multi-sector partnerships enabled the municipality to rapidly reprioritise, devising pandemic public strategy centred around people, prosperity and the environment. While Torrent’s long-standing approach saw the municipality well set up to face the challenges of COVID-19, its focus remains on post-pandemic recovery, approving a new long-term Municipal Action Plan, and further developing its efficient public apparatus.

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Demetrio Scopelliti

Director of Urban Planning and Public Space Design, AMAT, City of Milan

As one of the first major cities outside China hit by COVID-19, Milan acted fast to mitigate the pandemic’s effects, ultimately spurring rapid change. Through open-ended consultations with the public, the city created a living document to envision, with its citizens, what the ‘new normal’ entails. In particular, the city’s plans prioritise protecting the most vulnerable population sectors, leaving none behind. In broader terms, its response to the pandemic laid the groundwork for increased citizen participation and collaborative decision-making in public policy, to create an inclusive, resilient, digitalised and environmentally-conscious future.


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Carlos Moreno

The Mayor of Paris’ Special Envoy for Smart Cities and Associate Professor at Sorbonne University, City of Paris

Within its goal for carbon neutrality by 2050, Paris is adapting its urban infrastructure to create neighbourhoods where everything is reachable within 15 minutes’ walk or cycle. Highlighting six indispensable (social) functions needed to ensure citizens’ quality of life (living, working, supplying, caring, learning, enjoying), the 15-minute city re-organises urban areas to revolve around people. Underpinning a close-knit social fabric to avoid segregation, it tackles anonymity and loneliness with community-building. In light of COVID-19, cities worldwide embraced the 15-minute city as a ‘new normal’ narrative; however, it remains a long-term creation process, requiring rethinking and investment from urban administrations.

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