The pandemic tests the cities.


In the next decade there will be about 500 cities of more than one million people and several "mega-cities" with populations of more than 20 million

COVID-19 has been a tough test for cities, as they have had to assess their ability to address the spread of the infection. In other words, checking whether the urban environment was resilient, whether the support instruments worked, whether risk management was effective and efficient, or whether a different and more sustainable approach would have helped us to better manage the situation.

They are not rhetorical questions, but scenarios that we must anticipate and address in this post-virus world. Nobody wants another pandemic. Nobody wants a derivative economic crisis. Nobody wants blockades that limit social and economic activity.

Now is the time for a sustainable city following the historical model of a Mediterranean, compact and complex city, while being efficient and socially stable. It is time for the liveable city, which provides a good place to live and attracts companies and talent. Many cities must continue to build their resilience despite the pandemic, and it is crucial to integrate sustainability: from greater energy and water efficiency, to better air quality.

Sustainability must be integrated into every stage of construction and production, promoting recycling to ensure a cleaner environment, and taking advantage of the potential offered by digital technologies to reduce the environmental footprint.

At this time of adaptation, the strategy is habitability, and not just profitability. Cities cannot just be efficient places to do business. Cities are in constant competition and, therefore, the role played by their identity is key. The unique character of many cities is threatened by the pressure of standardisation, so positioning yourself and building a reputation is critical.

Now is the time to prioritise good governance, to concentrate the different agents, to have a transparent institutional framework that allows large-scale actions and ensures stability, especially in the face of any strategic option that the city undertakes.

But there are several conditions and diverse processes that shape the identity of a city, its competitiveness and its attractiveness. For example: the quality of the urban environment, the performance of the local economy, the satisfaction of residents, the identity of the community, or the sense of cohesion. These factors, taken together, will guarantee success.

The cities of the future are sustainable, innovative and entrepreneurial, which adapt to a new connected digital world to offer new jobs, solutions and economic outlets. All of them are key pillars of cities’ identity and their own brand.

Cities only occupy 2% of the planet's surface, but they are essential for global economic growth. They determine the wealth and poverty of their countries, generate employment, produce goods, provide services and promote economic opportunities for the entire territory. In addition, they are home to 50% of the world's population and a growth of 65 million people a year is expected. In the next decade there will be about 500 cities of more than one million people and several "mega-cities" with populations of more than 20 million.

Large and connected, they transcend borders and disrupt international agendas. They are magnets for business, people, money and innovation, and they drive the world economy. The 600 largest cities account for more than 60% of world GDP and in the top 20 a third of the largest companies are located, accounting for almost half of revenues. This is the century of the cities, which have the true power beyond the states.

Global cities are leaders in commerce, the arts, science, and education. They have the reach, the ambition and the power to shape not only the world of economics, but also to be their model, to promote their ideas, their culture, their policies and their future. They are no longer just places to live, but have become leading players on the world stage.

More and more cities are acting as stabilisation engines by providing centres for development. Many countries depend on their existing and emerging cities to act as an oasis in a desert often dry and with much disappointing mirage.

Cities are a reflection of the difficulties and challenges that countries face. But they will only be able to face their biggest challenges if they have the right management tools. The public-private partnership acquires more and more importance as a model of active participation of all for the growth of the city and the common good, which is the sum for the development of the country.

In the future cities must be more flexible, agile and responsive to challenges, as well as have the capacity to identify and adopt alternative solutions to pressing problems. In the post-COVID-19 era, the solution is a dual approach: the first one focused on protecting people and the second, on securing infrastructure.

Cities must explore synergies across multiple action plans, so a single strategy or action can address multiple potential problems and solve health, well-being, leadership, infrastructure, ecosystem, economy, or societal issues.

In the post-COVID-19 world, there will be an increased use of technology, data, and real-time Big Data, and an open information and communications technology infrastructure that, well managed, can help protect people’s well-being, promote growth and create an impact on the environment.

In short, a city is attractive as long as it is different, creating a true harmony between the natural environment and the built infrastructure. It is the path to resilience, because countries are no longer top-level references. The real action is no longer in countries but in their urban centres.


Anwar Zibaoui

Anwar Zibaoui
Specialized in economics and international relations and business internationalization. An expert in the Arab and Mediterranean world, he tries to strengthen mutual understanding and economic ties between these countries and the EU. He writes and participates in numerous Spanish and international media. He organizes international economic events and has lectured at various congresses, forums and universities. He has held and continues to carry out responsibilities in various international companies and organizations, He is Founder of AZ Meda Advisors and General Coordinator of Ascame.

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