31 May 2020
TTe COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted life as we know it in the cities. It has changed
cities in unprecedented ways that have never been seen since the last few decades. The economy has become as fragile as it was in the 1930s during the depression and recession.
The Coronavirus pandemic is the greatest public health and economic emergency facing humanity in cities in peacetime history since the Spanish influenza of 1918.
According to Roubini Global Economics, the COVID-19 pandemic found the economy already moving into “a perfect storm of financial, political, socio-economic, and environmental risks”.
The economy has, as a result of the impact of the COVID-19, returned to what Paul Krugman described eloquently in his book: The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, when he argued governments did not draw lessons from the 1930s, the early 1990s and the Asian and the Latin American crises in dealing with the 2008 economic financial crisis.
Accordingly, the pandemic is revealing the weakest links and blind spots of health, social and economic systems within countries and cities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought into sharp focus income and wealth inequality that exists, especially in cities. It has resulted in income disruption and food insecurity. This is also because income continues to shape access to quality services.
Inequalities in cities are characterised by fragmented urban forms, mainly housing and job mismatches, creating poverty traps on the periphery of cities. Therefore, cities need to be more granular in developing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This is important since cities are the hardest hit by the pandemic. Their responses will have to address the effects of the economy and livelihoods of citizens given existing poor health conditions faced by their citizens.
Cities need to play a bigger role in the health of their citizens. This includes investing in recreational spaces to promote healthy lifestyles, among others. This is because the lack of sustainable interventions will be felt by poorer communities in urban cities who bear the brunt of the health and socio-economic consequences as COVID-19 spreads.
This is the case in many cities because despite policy interventions across cities, COVID-19 has exposed the lack of coherent policy responses to urbanisation and inequality.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for cities to identify plans and strategies that will result in new cities. Such cities should be characterised by inclusion, social justice and must be based on the principles and notions of equality, such that no one is left behind.
- Mduduzi Mbada is head of policy research and advisory services unit in the office of the Gauteng Premier.