PAOLO VERZONE / SEEN FOR “THE WORLD”
InterviewThe world cities after the Covid, 1/14. With the epidemic hitting metropolitan areas hard, the Catalan capital intends to accelerate the changes that began before the health crisis.
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.
Ada Colau has been mayor of Barcelona (Spain) since 2015. In recent years, this former housing rights activist, head of the alternative left party Catalunya en Comú (Catalonia in common), has taken steps to curb mass tourism in the Mediterranean city, to limit speculation and the rise in prices linked to the proliferation of tourist apartments, to reduce car traffic, to revitalize neighborhoods and to involve the population more in the decision-making processes of the city through direct participation mechanisms. According to her, the pandemic has resulted in a “Citizen awareness” which will accelerate these changes. Dense, Barcelona has 1.7 million inhabitants, and the metropolitan area, which includes neighboring municipalities, gathers more than 5 million. The latter recorded more than 5,000 deaths from the Covid-19.
Barcelona was one of the areas most affected by the pandemic in Spain, along with Madrid. Does this call into question the model of large European cities?
It is obvious that the densest and most hyperconnected metropolitan areas, where the most displacement occurs, have been the most affected and the most vulnerable to the pandemic. This does not mean that cities should be given up or that they are dangerous. What is dangerous at the moment is agglomerations and massification. However, these already posed problems before the epidemic, in environmental but also economic and social terms. The climate emergency or mass tourism, which is causing imbalance and speculation, made it necessary to limit it. This pandemic is terrible, but it is also an opportunity to do better …
“For example, no one wants to return to the” normal “of pollution, when the air had not been so clean for at least a decade”
How can this crisis help to move forward?
Any crisis highlights priorities, but also strengths and weaknesses. The superfluous disappears and you see what really matters. Everyone realized that the most important thing is to cover basic needs, to have a strong public health system and well-endowed public services. We must take advantage of this citizen awareness to empower us to accelerate the changes and transitions necessary to protect people’s lives. For example, no one wants to return to the “normal” nature of pollution, when the air had not been so clean for at least a decade …
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