UCL Blog: Urban science advice and COVID-19

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2nd April 2020

Carla Washbourne

UCL, STEaPP

@CarlaWashbourne

Millions of urban dwellers across the globe are currently under lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. While the virus is not only an urban issue, it is indisputable that cities have been the focus of some of the most rapid and stringent policy decisions designed to limit its spread.
Lockdowns in major global cities like Paris have preceded those in the rural surrounds, attempting to slow the spread of cases between residents living and working in crowded urban settings and limit its diffusion along the multiple transit routes by which people commute for work and leisure.

Expanding urban areas are a global phenomenon, with over 50% of the global population now living in cities, predicted to rise to 68% by 2050. While their cumulative spatial footprint remains small in global terms, their influence on environment, society and economy are significant. Cities are great concentrators of people and ideas and as such they have an increasingly large role to play in directing the global approach to sustainable development. They are also highly interdependent, complex spaces, bringing people in to close physical proximity and have been critical arenas in many historic public health crises.

Making effective decisions on the best course of action for cities in times of both stability and crisis is an increasingly complex skill, requiring well-developed mechanisms for data collection and analysis, dissemination of knowledge and public engagement. Cities must have the capacity to understand their own challenges and respond to them in an appropriate and timely manner through administrative and practical interventions.

Effective urban decision-making requires appropriately designed institutions, which are able to effectively collect, handle and integrate this knowledge within their decision-making mechanisms. Cities must also be appropriately empowered to make decisions within an inevitably complex system of multi-scalar governance from local, to national to global. This can all be summarised as a need for robust ‘urban science advice’: the capabilities, spaces and practices for generating, translating and disseminating knowledge to support urban decision-making.

Read the full article at UCL STEaPP

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