DARCY PADILLA / SEEN FOR “THE WORLD”
InterviewThe world cities after the Covid, 2/14. How to introduce health measures in the country of individual freedom? How to manage a large population of homeless people? What is the impact of widespread telework? Meet the California city councilor.
World cities after the Covid
Around the world, mayors have been at the forefront in managing the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus. The main centers of infection were concentrated in metropolitan areas, and the more attractive and connected these metropolises were, the more they suffered – “The epidemic has clearly taken advantage of the forces of urban globalization to develop”, wrote the geographer Michel Lussault in our columns. How did the city officials experience this unprecedented crisis? How do they articulate his first lessons with the urban policies they had implemented, especially in the fight against global warming? Our correspondents interviewed, worldwide, fourteen mayors or governors (Barcelona, San Francisco, Kigali, Manchester, Seoul, Florence, Abidjan, Montreal, Budapest, Bogota, Bangkok, Tokyo, Madrid and Mexico). Their interviews, which we are publishing from June 14 to 21, testify to the vulnerability of metropolitan areas but also to the resources they are able to mobilize to respond to the health, climate and democratic crises.
London Breed, one of the few women at the head of a large city in the United States, was elected in 2018 on the promise to fight the housing crisis in San Francisco, which has 7,000 homeless people for a population of 800,000 inhabitants. The issue has been at the heart of the fight against the pandemic, from which London Breed nonetheless hopes to see progress in environmental protection. We interviewed her before the death of George Floyd and the start of the riots in the United States.
You were the first elected woman in the country to declare a state of health emergency in San Francisco on February 25, when no death had yet been reported. What led you to make this decision?
This was done following discussions with our public health experts and city emergency officials: how ready were we – or not – and what it could mean. These conversations started as early as January. Someone shared a video of the situation at Wuhan Hospital with me. It was really hard to believe that it was real and that it could happen here. Talking about the epidemic was one thing. Seeing what was going on was another.
But all your fellow mayors of big cities had the same information. You even got ahead of the other elected officials from San Francisco Bay…
What made me react was that I was told that we might not be able to handle the situation. In San Francisco, we have UCSF, Kaiser Permanente and many other hospitals… We all have these hospitals and I was told that we could not manage the increase in predictable cases if we did nothing? There, I must say that I got a little pissed off [rires].
“We try to be creative. We notably had circles drawn in the parks to encourage people to respect distances ”
But I had the click. I encouraged to take more aggressive measures. I was worried. I had seen the situation in Wuhan and in Italy. It made me think and I thought I had to be proactive, get ahead of the problem. We were all concerned about the consequences of possible health measures on the lives of people and their livelihoods. But I thought to myself, if we weren’t able to control the situation, we absolutely couldn’t wait any longer.
On March 15, three days before the governor of California, you issued a “shelter in place” order, but did not issue a formal exit ban or be punished. In a country so concerned about individual freedom, how do we impose public health measures?
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