Expert Perspectives on... Urban Resilience in the Face of Pandemics, with Simin Davoudi, Esteban León, Chiara Tomaselli and Mart Grisel

Simin Davoudi, promoter of Evolutionary Resilience theory, renowned urban planner and professor

“At the time when the COVID-19 pandemic is spiralling into multifaceted crises across the world with a tragic loss of lives and livelihoods, we cannot but hope to bounce back to ‘normality’. But, is this what urban resilience is all about? Indeed, there are many aspects of urban life to which we wish to return - notably the social encounters that are enabled by public spaces - but there are others that we dread - notably inequalities and pollutions. 

This means that cities can become resilient only if they shift their attention from simply bouncing back to where they were before, to bouncing forward to a better place. This requires the ability to turn the current crisis into a window of opportunity for reflections and reforms. The pandemic has shone a light on longstanding urban inequalities and has made us reflect on what kind of cities we want to live in, and what and whom should be valued most. To become resilient, therefore, cities need to use this energy and engage with transformative reforms in many aspects of urban life.”

 

Esteban León, Head of the City Resilience Global Programme of UN-Habitat

“Globally, humanity is enduring one of the most difficult moments in decades. It is frightening to witness how easily systems and even communities seem to be “deconstructed” in front of our eyes. The sky, seas, rivers are clearer, and wildlife, relishing the lack of noise, vehicles, contamination and human presence, are venturing out into spaces that were dangerous just weeks before. The financial markets, our human “empires”, however, are diminishing rapidly.

Humanity should seize this opportunity for collective reflection: we must act now to plan better, more sustainable and resilient cities. Efforts to build more resilient cities must also be by people, for people. They must also favour a compact city approach. Even if this feels counter-intuitive right now, the compact city ultimately  brings many benefits in terms of high residential density, efficient mobility and the maximisation of energy consumption and reduced negative environmental impact.

My hope is that the COVID-19 pandemic crisis awakens us to the fragility in which we all live: the virus is revealing weaknesses in the systems we have built. North, South, East and West, we must come together to advocate, plan and build resilient cities, not tomorrow, but now.”

This excerpt has been adapted from Mr León’s article published on the Urban Resilience Hub on 5th May 2020;  it is published by the EUKN with permission from Mr León. The original article can be accessed here.

 

Chiara Tomaselli, Urban Resilience Project Manager at RESALLIENCE

"This pandemic is reminding us of how connected our society is. A connection that is not only digital but also physical, depending on a worldwide ecological, economic, and social equilibrium. When working on urban resilience, we have to keep in mind that we won’t be resilient if “we” don't include everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us that our resilience strategies must first and foremost be inclusive and care-oriented. Even if we finally learn the value and benefit of caring, we must go beyond just recognition and actually invest time and money to convert this new approach into action. Ultimately, if we do not prioritise the most vulnerable groups in our urban agenda, our society will remain as fragile and exposed as they are.”

 

 

Martin Grisel, Director of the European Urban Knowledge Network (EUKN) EGTC

"The Covid-19 pandemic is a tragedy that has destroyed 400,000 lives and over 305 million full-time jobs worldwide. Empty streets prevailed in what used to be vibrant urban magnets of financial, economic, cultural and tourist activities, and transit hubs for travellers and commuters. Cities represent conviviality and vitality: the opposite of what we witnessed during the lock-down. Does the coronavirus not only kill people but also the “triumph of the city”? Do compact cities no longer make us healthier, richer and happier?

Density as such is not the problem. Many of the corona hot spots are outside urban centres. A study on the correlation between corona contaminations and air pollution suggests that expected COVID-19 cases increase by nearly 100 percent when pollution concentrations increase by 20 percent. Evidence was found around factory farms outside city centres.

It would be a mistake to focus on economic recovery by sacrificing climate and the environment. The transition towards a green, circular and digital economy is the way forward. This means we need to invest in new skills for new jobs. We need high-quality, green public spaces, shorter distances between work, home and leisure, allowing active mobility like walking and cycling. We cannot waste this crisis: we must use it as an impetus to start working more with nature and less against it. Until now, however, the share of green recovery is only 0.15% of the total recovery, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Public authorities now spending trillions on economic recovery have a unique chance to steer this transformation: they must take a green approach if we are to save both our cities and the planet as a whole."