Why sustainable urbanisation matters for the G20

Hazem Galal Partner, Global Leader for Cities & Local Government , PwC Middle East 17 June, 2020

Cities, home to 55% of the world’s population, are at the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s essential that we learn from this crisis to make our cities better prepared and more resilient when faced with future shocks.

The trend towards rapid urbanisation in recent decades has brought great socioeconomic advantages – cities are the engine of economic growth worldwide – but also increased risks, as the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare.

The pandemic has raised many questions about how our cities are planned, operated and funded. Densely populated areas and high concentrations of economic activity have presented significant challenges, it is not surprising that major cities were at the frontline of the fight against COVID-19. The social, economic and funding obstacles cities faced in responding to the pandemic have been significant; they have had to rapidly fill gaps in healthcare facilities, while continuing to provide essential services and care for all segments of society. Many face ongoing uncertainty in terms of economic, health, business continuity and disruption to supply chains.

There are important lessons for the future that can be taken from the way cities like Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong SAR, successfully flattened the infection curve and curtailed the initial spread of the virus. It’s not an accident that in these cities the local and national governments have worked closely together or the city has a high level of autonomy. In the case of Seoul in South Korea, the city aligned with the national government quickly to effectively implement national policies at a local level. Both Singapore (a city-state) and Hong Kong (a Special Administrative Region) have also responded quickly due to high autonomy. It’s important to note that in some cases, some of these cities, such as Singapore, faced a second peak due to pockets of poorly administered communities such as migrant workers’ compounds.

As society emerges into a new normal, the shape of that future will be different. This crisis will challenge many assumptions about cities. For example, how public transportation can succeed at a time when social distancing measures are in place and in the longer-term, and whether we need to spend so much time face-to-face at work or schools. We will need to change, and make our cities more virtually connected and resilient for the future – and this is our opportunity to implement changes that bring human as well as economic benefits. The Global Solutions Summit is focused around the recoupling of economic and social prosperity, and that is pertinent in our cities. 

The challenges cities face as they recover, should be handled with clear governance, strong leadership, and a focus on innovation and technology capabilities to support decision-making, city services delivery and the continuity of city operations. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still to be fully felt, but it’s clear that cities will need to compensate for lost revenues and secure funding from direct and alternative sources to support their citizens, businesses and also to invest in infrastructure that will improve their connectivity and resilience to better prepare for future shocks.  

The G20 is well positioned to help cities, and receives input from the Urban 20 (U20) engagement group, which was established in 2017 to raise the profile of urban issues on the G20 agenda and incorporate the voice of cities in the global agenda setting. The U20 provides a ready-made platform for discussions to build collective intelligence on the way forward and to make recommendations for sustainable urban development to the G20. By connecting with the G20’s financial track, the U20 can also advise on policies that could give cities better access to funding to support their recovery, as well as any future crisis. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the deep-rooted interdependence of nations and cities in terms of prosperity, security and sustainability. If all stakeholders– governments at all levels, the private sector, academia, and society in general – work together to create sustainable and resilient cities that balance inclusive economic success with human needs, nations will be able to handle future shocks.

About the Global Solutions Summit: The Global Solutions Summit – the World Policy Forum – is an international conference aimed at addressing key policy challenges facing the Group of Twenty (G20) and other global governance fora. For more information click here.

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This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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