The Covid crisis has highlighted the critical role of cities in ensuring citizens’ safety and welfare

Paris, France, October 2020 – Efus and representatives of the cities of Nice (France) and Madrid (Spain), the three co-leaders of the Partnership on Security in Public Spaces of the Urban Agenda for the EU, as well as the Eurocities network and the World Health Organisation (WHO)* discussed the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on cities and regions, the lessons they’ve learned and how they can better prepare for future challenges during a workshop organised online by the Urban Agenda Partnership, on 16 October. This event was held in the framework of the 18th European Week of Region and Cities, an annual event showcasing cities’ and regions’ “capacity to create growth and jobs, implement European Union cohesion policy, and prove the importance of the local and regional level for good European governance.”

Shifting towards more inclusive, green, smart and resilient cities

In the wake of the spring lockdown that shut down most cities around Europe and indeed the world, many voices called for a new urban paradigm and a shift towards more inclusive, green, smart and resilient cities. For example, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted the “need for place-based and people-centred approaches.” 

The response on the ground has indeed shown throughout Europe that the municipal and regional levels of governance have been particularly efficient in designing and delivering safety and welfare to citizens when national governments struggled to fine-tune their response to the evolution of the pandemic on the ground. Indeed, cities are not only key actors to effectively implement European and national measures, but also to design innovative bottom-up solutions and preventive actions.

One of the many lessons learned from the first wave of the pandemic has thus been that national governments have recognised the need to closely cooperate with the local and regional levels to manage the crisis because it is the level of governance closest to citizens.

Cities have responded in innovative ways

Presentations by Florence Cippola, Project Manager in Urban Security, Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur (France), Nicolas Gharbi, Principal Advisor for City Diplomacy and International Affairs, City of Madrid (Spain), and Elizabeth Johnston, Efus Executive Director, highlighted the degree in which cities mobilised throughout Europe and the innovative ways they catered to citizens in need. “The Covid crisis forced us to rethink the concept of security and what citizens expect from their local elected officials , who found themselves intervening in new, unexpected areas. It has reinforced the idea that social cohesion is a key element of security, that the care society is not an add-on but, on the contrary, the basis for sustainable, inclusive security. In short, social cohesion is a necessary investment,” said Elizabeth Johnston. 

The crisis also highlighted the cities’ need for exchanging among peers, as reflected by the success of Efus’ web conferences, which gathered in total about a thousand participants. Anthony Colclough from the Eurocities network stressed that the online platform COVIDnews launched in March drew some 120 cities from around Europe who exchanged practices and know-how on their response to the pandemic. He stressed the “amazing variety” of initiatives put in place by cities to help citizens before, during and after the lockdown. “We had thousands and thousands of users, and this illustrates how keen cities were to connect and exchange.” 

Prevention, a cost effective tool

The speakers, which also included Monika Konsinska, of the World Health Organisation (WHY) Regional Office for Europe, in Denmark, agreed that the crisis has shown that prevention is a valuable and cost-effective investment, both from a security and a health perspective. “No sustainable development is possible without health and well-being,” said the WHO representative. “Hopefully, this crisis has made us more aware of the need to invest in preventive approaches and to have support systems that can be agile,” added Ms Johnston. 

Indeed, the investments made by cities to prevent crime have proved sound in the crisis, notably because cities were able to mobilise their crime prevention partnerships to respond to the unforeseen needs of citizens. 

Now that the pandemic is again wreaking havoc, particularly so throughout Europe, cities need more than ever to enhance their exchanges in order to once again show their resilience and capacity for innovation. 

The recording of the conference is available here

* The speakers were Florence Cipolla, Project manager in urban security, Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur; Nicolas Gharbi, Principal Advisor for City Diplomacy and International affairs, City of Madrid; Elizabeth Johnston, Efus Executive Director; Anthony Colclough, Communications officer, Eurocities, Belgium; Monika Kosinska, Regional Focal Point for Healthy Cities, WHO, Regional Office for Europe, Denmark.

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