Welcome to the first in a series of weekly posts, all written by EURA members, on various aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The idea is for this column to provide a democratic space to share experiences, offer reflections and open up conversations.
Does the Covid-19 pandemic raise new questions for urban studies? What are the implications of this disaster for the future of cities and urban governance? Amid all the suffering are there positive stories and insights to unearth? Can international exchange help different societies share good ideas and practices on how to recover from the Covid-19 onslaught?
I would like to open this series of EURA Conversations by suggesting that the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how important it is for countries to have good local governance. In particular, I sense that local leaders, in and outside the state, have played a very positive role in bringing people together to solve problems arising from the pandemic. But this is, in truth, a hunch. If you know of any examples of inspirational local leadership it would be great to hear about them.
Let’s step back for a moment. In a few short months the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our world. Billions have had their lives disrupted, millions have been infected and, at the time of writing, 248,000 people have died. Moreover, Covid-19 presents an ongoing threat, a threat that is likely to continue even after a vaccine is discovered.
In one sense it is right to claim that ‘We are all in this together’ – the Covid-19 virus endangers all of us. But it is also true to say that Covid-19 discriminates in a brutal way. It is proving to be very effective in really hurting the people in society who are already vulnerable.
This is not, of course a feature of the virus. Rather the virus is revealing, in a way that no amount of social scientific research could match, just how unequal our societies had become well before the virus crept onto the world stage in January 2020.
Perhaps we can share some stories of inspirational community leadership in this column. The evidence from the UK suggests that local leaders have been far more competent in responding to the Covid-19 threat than our stumbling central government. Local leaders have already shown that they have three advantages.
First, they have local knowledge and understanding. Cities with good collaborative arrangements in place – linking local government, health authorities, voluntary organisations, religious groups, local businesses and so on – have been very successful in identifying and helping vulnerable people.
Second, local leaders can bring different stakeholders together in entirely new ways to tackle social issues. In many cities and localities elected leaders are orchestrating a dramatic rise in collaborative problem solving. Perhaps civic capacity will be strengthened in the medium to long term as a result of their empathetic leadership.
Third, going big picture for a moment, if it is true that local leaders are, in fact, responding well to the Covid-19 emergency will this have an impact on society? Is it too far fetched to suggest that local governance will gain in reputation and stature as we move towards a post Covid-19 world?In next week’s contribution to EURA Conversations Professor Ignazio Vinci, University of Palermo, Italy offers some thoughts on what Covid-19 says about the concept of proximity.