The outcomes of this discussion will be turned into a co-created statement around the lessons learnt from COVID-19 for just and sustainable cities. The session closed with a presentation on the currently evolving and growing UrbanA Community of Practice and related ongoing online conversations, a presentation on which can be found here.
As part of the Arena event, a public online webinar event, on ‘COVID-19, justice, and sustainability in cities’, was organized and attended by 286 people from all over the world, including activists, architects, urban planners, journalists and scholars from different disciplines.
The webinar explored the unfolding dynamics of justice and sustainability in light of how the COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding in cities worldwide. Urban justice scholars Helen Cole, Isabelle Anguelovski and Panagiota Kotsila –all three members of the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability, a research lab part of ICTA and IMIM at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona– touched on the following questions:
- What are the main manifestations of health and environmental inequalities and related, emergent questions around urban justice in times of pandemic and social confinement?
- To what extent (and where) are such inequalities being addressed in bold, radical ways that can redefine urban futures?
- How does COVID-19 redefine and force us to rethink urban infrastructure (housing, transit, and public space) need, use, and inequalities?
- What lessons can we draw from a crisis such as COVID-19 to build more just and sustainable cities, especially so in the context of a changing climate?
Speakers spoke of the already existing and exacerbated injustices around issues of health care access, housing, and environmental quality, which acted as a ‘substrate’ for the unequal distribution of COVD-19, and of the consequences suffered predominantly by vulnerable and marginalized social groups resulting from the disease itself and the efforts to control it (confinement, closure of businesses, of schools, etc.).
“Low income and minority communities are consistently exposed to greater environmental hazards and have access to fewer environmental amenities than their more affluent counterparts, facing worse health and lower life expectancy”. – Helen Cole
The potential new types of injustice(s) that might arise in relation to basic sectors of the urban economy and life (such as housing, public transportation and public space) were critically discussed based on recent developments and signs of change as the COVID-19 pandemic has developed in different cities, alongside radical ways forward that can address these long-standing and newly-emerging vulnerabilities.
“”Urbanism should be inclusive, feminist and radical. People of color should not only have access but feel safe in our public spaces”. – Isabelle Anguelovski
Last, links were drawn on the root causes of this -as well as previous- newly emerging and fast spreading epidemics, and the root causes of global climate change and environmental destruction. The unsustainable and unjust practices of food production and air pollution in cities were discussed as core challenges for mitigating both environmental and health risks, in the context of a broader need to re-think and restructure the economy away from damaging and polluting activities and towards care-centered and sustainable sectors.
“We need to think what aspects and sectors of the economy we want to recover and under what conditions should businesses operate, given the lessons emerging now stronger on the global and local interdependencies between places and species”. – Panagiota Kotsila