Despite the multiple challenges caused by COVID-19, it presents an opportunity for urban leaders to learn the right lessons from this crisis to build long-term societal, economic and environmental resilience against recurring natural and manmade catastrophes.1 The world’s cities are acutely vulnerable to these shocks: COVID-19 is the most damaging event so far in an intensifying pattern of emergencies, with around 95% of all reported cases worldwide in urban areas. Looking ahead, the UN estimates that almost two-thirds of cities with more than 500,000 residents are at high risk of exposure to floods, droughts, earthquakes and other natural disasters.2
Around the world, various cities have already demonstrated how a pro-active, coordinated response to the pandemic yields immediate results in terms of virus suppression and lays the foundations for long-term resilience. Boston, Helsinki, Riyadh, Singapore and Vienna are standout examples.
"Cities are at the forefront of the impacts of COVID-19. Those cities that have invested in developing capabilities to deal with all stages of the threat cycle: sense, defend, respond and recover have demonstrated their resilience in dealing with the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic. Cities should adopt an integrated approach, working with all stakeholders to enhance their preparedness for future shocks."
Our framework gives cities the tools to manage the immediate threat of COVID-19 and build long-term resilience across society, the economy and the environment. It includes a series of enablers in areas such as repurposing existing facilities, smarter data analytics, the development of alternative emergency funding options and more effective cross-sector citylevel governance.
Adopting smart city technologies can help cities provision for critical services and enables citizens to seamlessly carry on their interactions. This will be critical to strengthening cities against future shocks and threats. At the same time, effective navigation of the threat management cycle will depend on pursuing the appropriate sequence of responses, which the framework below sets out.
COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity for cities to learn from their experience in combatting the virus to be better prepared for future emergencies. The pandemic’s unprecedented impact on every aspect of urban life has provided compelling data and information about how to improve crisis responses and recovery strategies.
Our five selected cities - one in the US, two in Europe, one in the Middle East and one in Asia have all adopted effective and innovative measures which demonstrate how our framework can be applied in the current crisis to build long-term resilience against future threats. Given that the COVID-19 situation is highly dynamic, statistics and measures highlighted from these four cities are snapshots of specific points in time.
"Helsinki’s mission is to be the most functional city in the world. The strategy is based on a holistic leadership model, where each and every aspect of the city management and functions is build better by following the idea of functionality."
Despite its devastating human, social and economic cost, COVID-19 can spur urban leaders to build long-term resilience against future shocks, including a potentially imminent second wave. The pandemic is both an opportunity for cities to draw the right lessons to become more resilient, and a warning about the perils of not acting now. In the next 100 days of recovery programmes, cities must take the correct measures, as outlined in our framework.
Critically, these measures must be designed and implemented with one eye on the immediate potential threat of another COVID-19 wave and one eye on their adaptability for multiple external shocks. Thus, infrastructure planning and projects should incorporate social safety nets for vulnerable groups and envisage how they can be swiftly identified and located in an emergency. Infrastructure should also be "green" to ensure environmental resilience.
"Cities that started building smart city capabilities have been able to use their solutions to better sense and manage their cities virtually during the pandemic."
In economic recovery programmes, a balance has to be struck between re-opening too fast and risking a second wave and moving too slowly and failing to kick-start growth. The key is flexibility and agility. Urban leaders must have policies and protocols in place that will allow cities to operate in multiple modes, from full-crisis lockdowns through phased re-opening to an eventual return to normal activity – but always with the potential to go rapidly into reverse gear. According to the OECD, COVID-19 accelerated the shift to a new urban paradigm towards inclusive of green and smart cities.
Our framework shows how cities can navigate this perilous journey in the wake of a catastrophe by harnessing smart city technologies, from mobile phone tracking apps to locate and suppress infections to data analytics that enable real-time monitoring and management of essential services and infrastructure. At each stage of the journey, there is a relevant watchword: sense the approaching threat; move swiftly to defend and reinforce vulnerable points; respond by implementing structured, informed decisions; and recover after identifying key assets and data indicators that trigger recovery measures.
COVID-19 is a reminder that cities should partner and collaborate with national governments to ensure a consistent set of policies and coordinated actions. While most cities can count on the national government’s support during major emergencies, that’s not always the case, even in developed countries. Cities must become more self-reliant and innovative, enlisting all stakeholders in crisis response and recovery planning.
3) Future Saudi Cities Programme - Saudi Cities Report 2019
4) Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - Ministry of Health Portal : www.moh.gov.sa
5) Initiatives and services introduced by Saudi Arabian government authorities to support businesses during the emerging COVID-19- Ministry of Investment, KSA. https://www.misa.gov.sa/en/covid-19-gov-initiatives/.
6) The Fiscal Response to COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia; by Nader AlKathiri, Abdulelah Darandary, Ryan Alyamani. KAPSARK; July 2020.
Partner, Global Leader for Cities & Local Government, PwC Middle East
Tel: +971 4 3043393