Climate, Covid and City living

The effects of a twofold crisis – climate change and the global Covd-19 pandemic - are unfolding before our very eyes. Together, they are upending our daily lives and exacerbating the consequences of growing urbanisation. In a world of depleted resources and stretched services, Covid-19 has exposed how badly fractured the world’s socio-economic fabric has become, highlighting just how vulnerable our lives really are. On top of all of this there are the effects of significant – and often unplanned – urban spread, adding to city dwellers daily struggles, along with rising poverty and precariousness.

Climate, Covid and City living
I have been firmly convinced for many years now that the fragility of urban living is a major issue, whether we are talking about cities with a high population density or areas of average or low density.  
In our highly urbanised world being able to keep services up and running in times of crisis is more than a challenge: it is an absolute necessity. 
Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, I have repeatedly warned that it is, above all, a socio-territorial crisis that calls into question the way we live, work, consume and travel. Indeed, the restrictive measures implemented to combat viral spread have turned the daily lives of millions of people upside down.  
In every corner of the globe, the pace of urban life has slowed and its configuration has changed. The heart of its organisation and its functioning have been shaken to the very core. 
Nevertheless, despite claims that our cities are emptying as a result of this crisis, urban life is here to stay, and I have no doubt that the city will remain at the centre of our day-to-day life. That said, the city is not made up of one single universe, but a series of different age groups, from childhood to adolescence through to adulthood to old age, which co-exist, whilst largely ignoring one another.  
This anonymity of city life and the co-existence of different types of isolation, often charged with anxiety and stress, along with the fragility of the elderly and of children, are the consequences of this disembodied lifestyle.  
We are where we are and failing a mass exodus, we must take a very long, hard look at what living in a city really means. These twin crises of climate and health also raise questions as to how we can live with these threats and what the meaning of resilience is; a commonly used term, but one that is not always converted into action and sustainable plans.  
I also believe that resilience is not the best or fastest means of helping ourselves. We need to absorb the world we live in and take an overview of our living conditions in their entirety; it is about understanding our history, our past, the context, the developments and the transformations that have taken place in our cities so that we can propel ourselves towards the future and anticipate it. If we are to meet urban and territorial needs, the most important thing is to embrace an approach on uses and services that we must prioritise in order to create new relationships between the times and the spaces we live in.  
We must also learn to live with the unknown, the unpredictable, whose appearance always unsettles us, no matter how well prepared we are. And this is precisely the inner meaning of what we call the sensitive city, the living city. 
Thought and action at city and local level during these current difficult times have demonstrated the paramount importance of understanding these structural vulnerabilities on three levels: environmental, economic, and social, because therein lies the key to the analyses that will spot the faint signals of future "black swans”.  
In light of these vulnerabilities, indicators, and actions – namely relational ones – must be built upstream, with a view to achieving better life as a community and pride in belonging to an area, both of which are vital to drive the urban fabric onward towards the future. 
This is precisely what happened with the Covid-19 crisis which brutally plunged us all into the harshest health crisis of modern times. Paradoxically, this global threat has also served to reveal one of this century’s major facts: the strength of our cities. For the first time, we must think about and act upon citizens’ health, not only providing them with healthcare but also proposing a different pace of life, a different sociability. More than ever, the construction of a better community life depends on the place that cities occupy in our lives, their attractiveness, and the quality of their governance. The living city, our urban intelligence, will only be that which is capable of understanding the paramount importance of its vulnerability and will strive from the outset to be capable of strengthening its resilience every day, with the aim of achieving a better standard of daily life. 
Urban life has been paced in such a way that people go "faster and farther” from one place to another, with no control over their productive time. This constant toing and froing, which takes up time that we could be spending with our nearest and dearest, is wearying and, for some, results in a certain mistrust, or fear, of others and of difference.  
We must change, here and now; this pandemic obliges us to take a different approach to reconciling the home and the workplace, and, similarly, to rethink this way of life of production and consumption that ignores our neighbours. 
This crisis is forcing us to exist closer to home and is creating an opportunity for us to think differently, and focus not on the city, but on life in the city, to appreciate the benefits of proximity and to develop as many services as possible closer to home. And our relationship to time is changing too: by spending a quarter of an hour doing some type of mobile activity, such as walking, cycling, or scootering, we are encouraging "multipurpose proximity”.  
We are rediscovering our neighbourhoods and looking for peaceful, spruced-up public spaces with trees and plants, that are places of life, conviviality, and encounters. The aim is that the street "rediscovers its eyes”, as activist and city philosopher Jane Jacobs put it, so that beyond forms, the city is shaped by how it is used. 
One place, various uses, and foreach use new possibilities: that is the polycentric city, the quarter-of-anhour city, in line with Pascal’s claim that "Nature is an infinite sphere of which the centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere”. 
The suggested uses and polymorphous infrastructures are infinite. A discotheque that serves as a sports hall in the afternoon; a sports centre that serves as a venue for school support activities; repair workshops in neighbourhood stores; a theatrical play performed in an apartment; people singing in chorus at their windows, as we witnessed during periods of lockdown marked by a plethora of citizens’ initiatives. 
This is another virtue of such an approach: citizens actively participating to allow this proximity to be experienced, so that every one of us can access essential social functions close to where we live – have somewhere to live, work, buy supplies, take care of ourselves, get an education and flourish.  
This decentralisation of the city is a roadmap towards an ecological and humanistic future that offers a new urban horizon. A city where people can once again enjoy time that is useful and creative for both themselves and their loved ones. 
This vision is within reach of every city, as long as they establish a road map. The city of proximities, the "quarter-of-an-hour” city in a compact area and the "half-hour” territory in areas of average and low density make it possible to rebuild solidarity and mutual aid, which are the true cornerstones of happy lives.  
This is essential today if we are to remedy the fragility of the urban fabric and the relationships of the inhabitants with their local area. 
Tomorrow, when these troubled times are behind us, we must keep this momentum going and remind ourselves that going to work every day – and sometimes travelling a long way to get there – is more a question of maintaining an imposed reporting structure than a real functional need. 
When the only solution is to silence a certain way of life, it also becomes apparent that the city of proximities is an opportunity to live differently. This is essential today if we are to remedy the fragility of the urban fabric and the relationships of the inhabitants with their local area. 
It is another reading of life in the city, which through happy proximity in a polycentric, interconnected, multipurpose city, prompts us to think that the metamorphosis towards the common good is the challenge of the forthcoming decade, both here and elsewhere.

Carlos Moreno is Senior Professor at the University of Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne – IAE (Sorbonne Business School), Paris. 
He is a researcher of international renown and recognised as a scientist with an innovative mind, pioneer works and his unique approach on urban issues.  
He is also a scientific advisor of national and international figures of the highest level, including the Mayor of Paris Smart City Special Envoy.  
He works at the heart of issues of international significance as a result of his research, bringing an innovative perspective on urban issues and offering solutions to the issues faced by the cities, metropolises and territories during the 21st century. Some of his concepts traveled the world: the Human Smart City, the 15mn City, the Territory of 30mn. Carlos Moreno received the Foresight Medal by the French Academy of Architecture (2019). 
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