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COVID-19 : The End of Global Sustainable Cities?

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt across the globe in a wide range of countries and very different environments. The pandemic has already affected countries in every region, making this a truly global situation where every country must take steps to prepare and respond. Cities also play a central role in preparing for, mitigating and adapting to pandemics. In fact, many of the norms and rules for cities to manage infectious disease were first discussed at a global sanitary conference in 1851. Today, the preparedness of cities varies around the world. Their level of development and the socio-economic determinants of their populations play a big role. Cities with a high concentration of urban poor and deep inequalities are potentially more vulnerable than those that are better resourced, less crowded, and more inclusive. Cities that are open, transparent, collaborative and adopt comprehensive responses are better equipped to manage pandemics than those that are not. While still too early to declare a success, the early response of Taiwan and Singapore to the COVID-19 outbreak stand out. Both Taipei and Singapore applied the lessons from past pandemics and had the investigative capacities, health systems and, importantly, the right kind of leadership in place to rapidly take decisive action. They were able to flatten the pandemic curve through early detection thus keeping their health systems from becoming rapidly overwhelmed. Healthy cities also encourage better urban planning to prioritize increased access to safe transport systems, green and public spaces, and emergency responses to natural disasters, which together reduce road traffic deaths, improve air quality, promote physical activity and save lives from disasters. What we do today will change the cities of tomorrow, to make them safe and inclusive, and resilient for future crises. Looking forward, federal and states agencies are supporting many cities to develop innovative planning and expansion models that focus on compactness and connectivity, as well as decentralized local access to all basic services and infrastructure, including health, which could contribute towards slowing the spread of pandemics.