The UNESCO Cities Platform online meeting on 25 June 2020 brought together a diverse set of urban stakeholders and actors to discuss how COVID-19 has sparked the rethinking of urban development across its social, cultural, economic and environmental dimensions. As cities were the first to experience the pandemic and have been most impacted by its effects, their global response is setting the tone for how we move forward as a new normal takes root.
The Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Xing Qu, opened the meeting by emphasizing the great potential of cities in responding to the ongoing pandemic.
The meeting consensus was that the crisis has given the world an opportunity to build a “new normal” — one that is more equitable and sustainable – to create a more resilient and inclusive world. In order to create the city of tomorrow, cities will have to look beyond the brick and mortar model and listen to the needs and demands of their inhabitants.
Understanding and acting on the imbalances and inequalities in cities across the world is essential. Geraldina González de la Vega Hernández, President of the Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination of Mexico City (COPRED), explained that “the pandemic did not provoke the inequality that we are now seeing, it just increased the inequality gaps and social injustice.”
COVID-19, which has placed cities on the frontlines in the response to the crisis, has reminded us of the importance of the local dimension of development issues. Ms. Soo-Jin Kim, Deputy Head of the City Division at OECD, reiterated that “national governments need the support of local governments to be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Part of the “new normal” will also include how we travel. The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on tourism and culture. Cities understand that “resilience and sustainability in tourism is key”, according to Manuel Butler, Executive Director, World Tourism Organization, and this will define how tourism is reshaped in the future. It was acknowledged that as cities are looking to create the tourism of tomorrow, there can be no return to business as usual. Participants stressed, for example, the importance of developing stronger domestic tourism sectors and investing in local communities and businesses, including creative industries.
The global meeting came to a close with a look towards the “new normal”. Rethinking, rediscovering, and innovating will be catalysts for how we all recover in a post COVID-19 world. “We are going to see improvements in the city, livability conditions will be improved, while leveraging what cities are well known for – agglomeration, inclusion and diversity,” said Sameh Wahba, Global Director, Urban, Disaster, Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice, World Bank.
Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO, concluded the meeting by highlighting the importance of cities in the development context and stated, “Going back to the ‘normal life’ before COVID-19 should not be an option. We should seize this moment and focus on the new possibilities triggered by the crisis towards transforming cities into resilient, socially inclusive and green communities.”
For more details and to watch the debate, click here.