Impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic are reverberating through cities around the world. Many cities have been hit hard. The response to the pandemic—the shuttering of physical gathering places and a doubling-down on technological stand-ins—has disrupted urban systems, distorted economies, and upended the lives of the over 4 billion people who live and work in cities worldwide. These impacts have been greatest on the most vulnerable: rates of extreme poverty are growing around the world and, here in the U.S., already disadvantaged communities face higher infection and mortality rates and rates of job loss. There is no question that cities will change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The question is: What will be the lasting effects of the pandemic on urban life and urban systems? Given these and the pandemic’s effects on vulnerable populations in cities, how do we rebuild equitably and sustainably?
These are the questions we asked of our respondents for Expert Voices, our annual e-newsletter for which we ask experts to reflect on a question of importance to cities. Their answers touch on a range of tactics and approaches, from policy proposals to broad attitudinal shifts. One theme that underlies them all is the belief that cities are essential. While our experts are realistic about the many challenges that cities face, they are also confident that cities themselves—agglomerations of people and commerce, ideas and innovation—hold the keys to overcoming these challenges. Even those who foresee smaller cities in the future are confident that cities aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they are necessary for a better future. The ideas in these essays show the way.