Literature update: Urban development in times of COVID-19

Policy guidelines

While the Americas face high peaks in the wave of contagion, some European and Asian countries are slowly transiting to the new normal. This transition is characterized by the leadership of local governments, given the great impact that COVID-19 has had on cities. Some argue that the response system that is currently based on international organizations and national governments, has been insufficient to cope with the crisis and that the recovery process will be largely in the hands of the cities (Mohd Sharif and Saiz, 2020; Garrett, 2020; Hachigian and Pipa­, 2020).

Therefore, the policies that have been and will be launched at the city level are crucial for the successful early and long-term recovery of the countries and regions. In response to that, international organizations and academia are producing policy guidelines to provide recommendations and inspiration for the local governments to cope with the adaptation processes and to respond to a possible second wave of contagion (Mohd Sharif and Saiz, 2020; Hachigian and Pipa­, 2020).

The focus has been in the adaptation of the city’s infrastructure; the necessity to adapt government institutions to the new dynamics; and the attention and inclusion of vulnerable groups. As for the vulnerable groups, the WHO (2020) brings attention to the informal settlements, urban poor, homeless, people living in inadequate housing conditions, refugees, migrants, elderly, isolated people, people with underlying medical (mental and physical) conditions and minorities.

  • In response to the pandemic, the focus must be on the prevention of disease transmission and the care of the affected (Mohd Sharif and Saiz, 2020). Health and hygiene services must be maintained and improved to address the crisis, even adapting hotels or sports and convention centres as housing or medical facilities (Larrain, 2020). The creation of public awareness, either from pedagogy or from the provision of livelihoods for those who have been affected by the loss of jobs or income, so that they can comply with measures such as the lockdown or social distancing.

    A cash transfer to vulnerable groups is one of the most used measures. Nevertheless, access to financial services is not as wide spread as expected, especially for the most vulnerable and isolated communities, who may exacerbate the impact of the crisis (Pazarbasioglu et al., 2020).Community response initiatives need to be encouraged, as well as voluntary movements to the subscales of the city, as they possess sufficient social capital to mobilize community resources and to be channels of communication with the local government (Shaw et al., 2020).

  • This phase should mitigate the impact on the vulnerable groups and prevent the deterioration of the livelihoods of citizens, mainly those who are most vulnerable. This can be made through the creation of temporary jobs that help to tackle the pandemic, for example street cleaning, fumigation and disinfection, garbage collection, drainage clearing, production and distribution of face masks (Mohd Sharif and Saiz, 2020).

    Given the need to ensure some form of social distancing, working or studying from home are going to be common practices of the new normal at least for the first 18 months (World Bank, 2020a). In that sense, it becomes fundamental to re-skill the workers in the use of IT tools as well as in soft skills to promote coexistence and teamwork from the virtual environment (McKinsey, 2020; Lordan, 2020). Moreover, regarding education systems for primary and secondary levels of education are usually connected with the provision of food for children (World Bank, 2020). In the absence of school time, many children may suffer from malnutrition and no access to food. The responses for the students should incorporate, access technology (i.e. smart phone, tablets or computers) to be able to work from home, for which micro loan systems or donations could be set up for those without access; as well as modifications of curriculums, the capacity to be able to be proficient users of IT or self-guided learning tools (World Bank, 2020).

  • To achieve long-term adaptation, cities must evaluate which measures have already been taken during the early recovery period and which measures can effectively be continued; once the assessment has been made, the next step is to create institutions and protocols to guarantee its continuity and adaptability (Adler and Vera, 2020).

    Some measures can be more debatable than others. For example, during the crisis, different countries adopted unique rules for mitigation of coronavirus which somehow constrained some social freedoms, even promoting police intervention and enforcement. These measures will be necessary especially in the first phases of the reopening of the cities. However, the policing model must be centred around facilitating public needs and exercising police powers with fairness, proportionality, respect for human rights, and legitimacy rather than harsh authoritarian methods (Stott, West and Harrison, 2020). To slowly incorporate social distancing or hygienic measures within the common behaviour of citizens, the policing models can serve as a means for engaging, explaining and encouraging the new normal. This could also be an opportunity for the governments to create new social contracts with the citizens, legitimating its institutional structure (Stott, West and Harrison, 2020).

    Cities are complex entities that enclose other subscales. Therefore, the policies launched by local governments should not only consider the city level, but also the neighbourhood and the household levels.

    Table 1. Policy suggestions for adapting to the new normal at different scales within the city




    • Ensure the availability of and access to infrastructure mainly for health, sanitation, recreation and mobility (Chamas, 2020).
    • Equal service delivery in the city, prioritizing the most vulnerable groups and planning projects that coordinate different jurisdictions (Raghunath, 2020)
    • Expand educational channels through communications infrastructure and contextualised learning (Vera and Mashini, 2020).
    • Increase accessibility through safe mobility and on a human scale: diversify means of transport and provide civic education to encourage better and safer mobility behaviours (Vera and Mashini, 2020; Serafimova, 2020).
    • Universalise green infrastructure in the city: both in the formal settlements and the most disadvantaged ones (Vera and Mashini, 2020)
    • Match mobility ‘supply’ with ‘demand’ to optimise the use of the existent mobility infrastructure. This will lead to reduce congestion and CO2 emissions, increase productivity and air quality (Serafimova, 2020)
    • Promote a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approach to collaboration and coordination (WHO, 2020)
    • Conduct participatory capacity assessments and risk analysis and develop a consequent strategy prioritizing the actions that will lead to better capacities (WHO, 2020)


    • Promote new leaderships within the communities to enhance their organization capacities, including all type of actors: community leaders, social networks for community engagement such as grassroots movements and religious leaders, and the private sector (Vera and Mashini, 2020; WHO, 2020)
    • Create intelligent neighbourhood systems in which access to essential services and resources are also promoted by local actors through, for example, the use of public space (Vera and Mashini, 2020)


    • Ensure the quality of housing, whether newly constructed or refurbished; favour new designs that include good ventilation and safe materials (Chamas, 2020)
    • Launch personal, hand hygiene and respiratory awareness and training processes at the household level (WHO, 2020)

    As for long-term adaptation, governments should address uncertainty through high levels of institutional adaptation and by launching policies to adopt the new normal within the dynamics of the city (Mohd Sharif and Saiz, 2020). From a broad perspective, the main recommendations for governments to build resilience and reduce risks are: (i) learn from prior experiences and be prepared, (ii) apply early preventive measures (i.e. lockdown) and strength vigilance of such measures, (iii) increase public awareness constantly, (iv) consider the cultural diversity between communities and the impact of certain beliefs or attitudes towards the actions undertaken to prevent and mitigate (v) promote healthier lifestyles regarding physical and mental health and (vi) create inclusive recovery plans including children, elderly, unemployed and migrants (vii) develop warning systems to keep the population informed (Djalante, Shaw, DeWit, 2020).

  • Adler, V. and Vera, F., 2020. Salvar Vidas Y Mantener Medios De Vida Para Ciudades En Pausa: Ideas Para La Activación Y Recuperación Urbana. [online] Ciudades Sostenibles. Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Chamas, P., 2020. La Gestión Urbana Y La Salud Ambiental. [online] Ciudades Sostenibles|Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (IABD). Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Garrett, W. 2020. The post-COVID-19 world will be less global and less urban response. Wharton School University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia - [online] Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Hachigian, N. and Pipa, A., 2020. Can cities fix a post-pandemic world order? [online] Foreign Policy 5-5-2020. Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Lordan, G., 2020. Virtual inclusion in the city. [online] London School of Economics and Political Science. London. Available at: [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    McKinsey. 2020. Beyond hiring: How companies are reskilling to address talent gaps. McKinsey & Company, New York [online] Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Mohd Sharif, M. and Saiz, E., 2020. Opinion: Local governments are in the frontline of Corona virus Response | UN-Habitat, Washington. [online] Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Raghunath, M., 2020. building safer and more resilient cities in the Philippines. [online] World Bank Blogs, Washington. Available at: [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Serafimova, T., 2020. Covid-19: An opportunity to redesign mobility towards greater sustainability and resilience?. [online] European University Institute, Fiesole. Available at: [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Shaw, D., Bealt, J., Furnival, J., and Boaden, R. 2020. Cities for a resilient recovery: International lessons on recovery from COVID-19. The Manchester Briefing |Cities on the Frontline, Manchester. [online] Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    Stott, C., West, O. and Harrison, M., 2020. A turning point, securitization, and policing in the context of Covid-19: Building a new social contract between state and nation? Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice. DOI:

    Vera, F. and Mashini, D., 2020. Espacio Público: 6 Ideas Para Revitalizar Los Barrios El Día Después Del COVID-19. [online] Ciudades Sostenibles|Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo IADB. Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    World Bank. 2020. The COVID-19 Pandemic: Shocks to education and policy responses. World Bank, Washington [online] Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

    WHO. 2020. Strengthening preparedness For COVID-19 in cities and urban settings. World Health Organization, Geneva [online] Available at [Accessed 30-5-2020]

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Author: Daniela Ochoa Peralta