After Covid, the cities

Marco Cremaschi,

Urban School, SciencesPo, Paris, France

The COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on the lives and prospects of millions of people around the world. Comments appear to be evenly split between fear of the apocalypse and calls for denial. Many found the ideal culprit in the city; repentant archistars praised the countryside. However, common sense observations lead to risky generalizations and hasty conclusions.

Contrarywise, a recent survey concludes that only some changes will be permanent, while cities are the answer, not the problem. A survey at the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei looks at the impacts on 20 cities around the world over the coming years. Some 25 experts have drawn up more than 200 proposals mapping the impacts and priorities of 20 cities around the world.

Diverging from press comments, the experts predict that the city will remain attractive, even though the crisis has severely affected the vulnerable population, especially in the slums of the South of the world. Each city continues to face varied impacts, however, shaped by the structural problems (inequality, war, disease, climatic events, etc.) pending from the past. Panel members are cautious about either radical changes or significant innovations. For instance, the crisis will not trigger a steady transition from consumerism to frugality; a massive abandonment of cities is unlikely, as well an increase of deregulation.

The spatial impacts of the pandemic present significant “local” variability. Production chains will become shorter, tourism will rediscover nearby places, and local governance will become crucial. The integration of digital and urban flows accelerated its pace. New ways of working explode the demand for IT and crash the need for office space. Mobility flows and routes change, some will decrease, affecting cities’ budgets and programs. AI systems will restructure technological networks and infrastructures. Public spaces will be remotely controlled and less used.

Private and public spaces and infrastructures integrating digital technology arise a challenge to the local collective action. The COVID crisis highlighted the limits of forecasting of States. Cities are already concerned but not yet equipped. A shift has been started by local actions, some informal some promoted renewing the struggle between states and cities. Cities taking advantage of this shift will become more powerful and potentially more efficient. They can become fairer or not, depending on where we will ‘land’ in politics. In all case, the local institutions of welfare and governance need to be redesigned.