Urban populations gain much from the density of city life. The joys offered by such a wide variety of human experiences. The safety that results from cultural and social integration. The convenience of local high street retail and sustainable public transport. The proximity of residential, commercial and leisure developments and land uses. These benefits are all currently held to ransom by the temporary practice of social distancing. with opinion articles appearing on the internet, casting doubt on the future of these urban ideas.
I want to urge urban practitioners, please don’t be quick to jump to bleak conclusions. Consider the decades of work and advocacy gone into persuading designers, planners and policymakers about the benefits of urban living and use this time to reflect on what matters in cities as we enter the post-virus period.
The full implications of COVID-19 on cities have not been fully realised. We can observe direct effects on systems like health services and transport; some indirect effects on education and supply chains, but there will be further tertiary effects on other aspects of city life, like mental health and the insurance sector.
Many of the current changes to urban life are not due to the disease itself, but due to measures put in place to control the disease, which may fluctuate and continue to stress our urban systems. Adaptations within every aspect of day to day life, community, trade and leisure, will be far-reaching and continuous. It’s important to take an evidence-based, and proactive approach as we strengthen the elements of city life we want to improve. We need to observe what’s working and stay focused on what still needs to be fixed.
As we attempt to strengthen our cities’ resilience, measurement will be key. When we developed the City Resilience Index we based it on evidence of what helps cities understand and respond to known and unknown challenges, in a systematic way. The current pandemic has revealed the need for a robust and workable definition of city resilience, one that takes account of changed world.