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UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy

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Urban science advice and Covid-19: City responses

c.washbourne8 June 2020

From Wuhan to New York to São Paulo, cities have been the stage for many of the biggest dramas unfolding throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been the focus of the most rapid and stringent containment efforts and key players in the ongoing debate around the future of our social lives, work and mobility. Significant independence, resourcefulness and creativity on the part of cities has been required in order to ensure that public health is protected as countries begin to relax rules limiting movement and social contact. This cannot be effectively managed without the advice of experts and insights and support of communities, to understand the ongoing risks posed by COVID-19 and to shape the most appropriate and effective responses.

Cyclists in Mexico City

Cyclists in Mexico City

As noted in the first instalment of this series, effective urban science advice in particular is critical for responding to crises like COVID-19. Cities have to be empowered to act on the basis of the most relevant and appropriate information available, tailored as much as possible to their local context, using appropriate mechanisms to turn this advice in to decisions which could be enacted and enforced at scale. In the US alone, the National League of Cities’ COVID-19: Local Action Tracker, has been documenting the growth of city-level policies and as of 8th June 2020 stands at 1,837 policies tracked, representing 506 cities and around 95,500,000 citizens. City-level responses include actions as diverse as the release of emergency relief funding, distribution of masks, development of public health campaigns and setting guidelines for the reopening of recreation and leisure facilities. The effectiveness of many of these actions ultimately depends on insights from biological, physical and social sciences and engineering amongst a range of other important expertise, guiding the way that they are shaped, implemented and evaluated.

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Urban science advice and COVID-19

c.washbourne2 April 2020

Millions of urban dwellers across the globe are currently under lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. While the virus is not only an urban issue, it is indisputable that cities have been the focus of some of the most rapid and stringent policy decisions designed to limit its spread. Lockdowns in major global cities like Paris have preceded those in the rural surrounds, attempting to slow the spread of cases between residents living and working in crowded urban settings and limit its diffusion along the multiple transit routes by which people commute for work and leisure.

City skyline

Expanding urban areas are a global phenomenon, with over 50% of the global population now living in cities, predicted to rise to 68% by 2050. While their cumulative spatial footprint remains small in global terms, their influence on environment, society and economy are significant. Cities are great concentrators of people and ideas and as such they have an increasingly large role to play in directing the global approach to sustainable development. They are also highly interdependent, complex spaces, bringing people in to close physical proximity and have been critical arenas in many historic public health crises.

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