The unrelenting global coronavirus pandemic compounds the mounting pressure on cities to decarbonize rapidly, reduce inequality, improve access to services and amenities, and increase overall resilience. The pandemic has exploited the manifold vulnerabilities of urban poverty. Inadequate health infrastructure, lack of water or sanitation services, overcrowded housing with little or no access to green spaces not only increased the contagion threat, but also amplified the risk of medical complications from Covid-19. Falling sick in these conditions often means significant income loss, which is accompanied by other vulnerabilities that make the virus more harmful in a vicious cycle that widens inequality. The World Bank estimates that nearly 120 million people have fallen into extreme poverty in mostly low and middle-income countries because of the pandemic.
At the same time, many cities are bracing for the full impact of the “scissors effect”, under which government expenditure increases while tax revenues decline. Previously unknown expenditures – for instance, testing and contact-tracing, purchase of vaccines and other personal protective equipment (PPE), among others – are expected to increase while lockdown, border control, and other business disruptions continue to erode revenue. With no clear endgame to the pandemic in sight (though some countries such as Singapore are moving to treat Covid-19 as endemic), many cities are likely to fall behind on meeting their sustainable goals. In turn, this will erode resilience for the next pandemic. When taming this outbreak depends so much on attaining a sustainable, equitable and healthy city, cities not only should build back better, but they should also build back right.
The Sharing City framework
If so, then what constitutes a roadmap to “build back right”? The Sharing City is germane. Already tested in different cities at various scales, this framework has been driving a large-scale project in the European Union (EU), frames design research at and among different universities, and continues to be discussed in key forums worldwide, such as the 2021 Venice Biennale’s Architecture Exhibition. Defined broadly, the Sharing City is a place-based urban design and policy framework enabling citizens to share resources collaboratively, equitably and sustainably, which in turn leads to individual well-being and collective resilience.