COVID, CITIES and CLIMATE: Historical Precedents and Potential Transitions for the New Economy

This academic paper has been written in 2020 by Peter Newman, from the School of Design and Built Environment in Curtin University, Australia. It presents the Covid-driven economic collapse, as an opportunity that will drive a wave of innovation with responses and solutions to the current climate crisis. This paper highlights technological advances (e.g. electric vehicles, hydrogen-based industry, etc.), as well as behaviour changes (e.g. less car dependence) that will be fast emerging as a result of the Covid crisis.

Date added 17 September 2020
Last updated 17 September 2020

This paper starts by describing the impact that Covid has had in cities, and it compares it to other historical events (e.g. the global crash of the 1930s) that also had devastating consequences as well as the power to transform societies. In the case of Covid, the two transformative changes that this paper engages with are: telecommunication in large groups (i.e. an increase on internet usage for meetings, shopping, entertainment, etc.), and an increase in the usage of local places (e.g. visiting town centres and districts within walking distance). The paper explains that both these transformations have resulted in one thing: they have replaced the need for travel.

This piece of work describes different waves of innovation through history as a result of a crisis or depression, for example: Great Depression followed by the Belle Epoque (1890s). The latest wave of innovation as laid out in this paper emerges out of the Covid-driven economic collapse, and is the rise of the Green Economy. This paper explains that economic collapses have the capacity to transform economies, cities, and culture, much more than an incremental transition would. An example of this is the slow rate in which the measures of the Paris Agreement are being implemented worldwide, and how Covid is bringing about a much faster change. According to this resource, the wave following Covid will bring about technological innovations that have been slowly emerging, such as renewable energy, electric vehicles, hydrogen-based industry.

This paper also explains five features that this post-Covid innovation wave will bring to cities. These are:

  1. Relocalised centres with integrated local place infrastructure.
  2. Tailored innovations in each urban fabric.
  3. Less car dependence in most urban fabrics.
  4. Symbiotic partnerships to fund the new urban economy.
  5. Rewritten manuals for urban professionals.

This resource concludes that cities will be leading this transformation, and will have an important role in creating better and more liveable local and global environments, and tackling the climate agenda.