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Science, Policy & Pandemics: Cities and Covid-19

16 July 2020

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How are cities coping with the covid-19 pandemic?

In the 16th episode of our series on science, policy and pandemics, CSaP Executive Director Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by VK Madhavan, Dr Tolullah Oni, and Professor Ash Amin. They explored how public health understandings of cities, and broader understandings of how people live in cities, are being highlighted and challenged by our current experience of the covid-19 pandemic.

Listen to the discussion here:

Produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network, CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on science, policy and pandemics aims to answer questions about our understanding of the current pandemic, including the epidemiology, on what basis governments are making current decisions, how much confidence we can have in the knowledge models are producing, and how to manage the uncertainties involved in the present crisis.

Throughout the discussion, Dr Tolu Oni highlighted that the pandemic has amplified existing inequities in our cities. Covid-19 has made those who were already vulnerable even more vulnerable. However, she was quick to note that as we respond to this emergencies, we need to recognize that even in the context of a disease outbreak, disaster is preventable if societies have taken the time to address fundamental underlying factors that influence vulnerability. Meanwhile, Professor Amin suggested that there are multiple dimensions to how cities shape public health. This includes the management of population density; how cities create space for healthy living including through green spaces, recreation areas, and clean air; how cities manage poverty, precarity, welfare guarantees and basic income; and how people interact with one another in the context of urban culture. Here, VK Madhavan stressed that if we want to prevent disease outbreaks in large cities, we need to re-examine how we plan housing settlements and the provision of water and sanitation for the urban poor. He noted that this will require investment and political will.

Professor Amin has suggested that "the pandemic has brought back to the centre stage the idea of the city as a space for good health and wellbeing". He believes there are pressing questions which policymakers will have to address about the character of the built environment in cities, including the nature of green spaces, the kinds of buildings we inhabit, the building of decent neighbourhoods, and how we can bring back the central tenants of universal welfare in our cities while striving to rekindle the essence of a cohesive society.

As we go forward, Dr Oni suggests that we need to identify the positive and nimble aspects of the urban system. This will involve embracing the flux within urban spaces and proactively leveraging cities' possibilities for health. Furthermore, Dr Oni called on municipalities, developers, and urban planners to take responsibility for the influence of built environments upon population health, while suggesting that people should demand health from urban planners. She suggested we need to ensure that those making health prescriptions for urban developments have the expertise to do so. Moreover, she highlighted the need for more dialogue between the building and development sectors and health agencies.


CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's special series on Science, Policy and Pandemics is available across all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Google Play, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Podbean, ListenNotes, Acast, Player.FM, Podcast Addict, and Castbox.

Photo by sabamonin on Flickr

Kate McNeil

Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research