Urban Areas: The engines of recovery

For all its tragedies and challenges, COVID-19 has highlighted the potential for a better future for our urban centres, writes Idoia Villanueva Ruiz.
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By Idoia Villanueva Ruiz

Idoia Villanueva Ruiz (ES, GUE/NGL) was a rapporteur of the Resolution on the European Year of Greener Cities 2022

24 Jun 2021

With the adoption of the latest national recovery plans by the European Commission, a decisive period lies ahead for the way out of the health, economic and social crisis we find ourselves in. Around 40 percent of the population of the European Union live in cities and urban spaces have a key role to play in recovery.

Because they are large population centres, they will be where the process of restoring and reinstating a certain degree of normality begins. Recovery plans also include another substantive element: resilience.

Cities are undoubtedly the driving force behind this recovery, but it cannot be achieved without including other urban population centres that may be smaller but are also centres of social and economic activity.

“Bringing nature into cities and greening our neighbourhoods is one of the greatest and most underused tools at our disposal for improving the quality of life for all”

We were all struck by the sight of the empty cities and capitals of Europe during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time that could be described as dystopian, we were then able to imagine cities as never before.

The lockdown measures put a premium on factors such as green spaces, places to enjoy outdoor leisure or areas for walking. It is essential that the upheavals brought about in the post-COVID-19 era change the rhythm and unbridled dynamics of cities.

We must reclaim space as a public concept, designed for the wellbeing of city dwellers and not as a market commodity to be sold to the highest bidder who can make money from it. These spaces may have the capacity to generate wealth, but can also perpetuate poverty and reinforce inequalities.

There are increasing difficulties in access to housing, an inability to meet the costs of basic supplies and the privatisation of public services such as education, health, housing and transport. All this makes cities increasingly tough places to live.

Indeed, the concentration of job opportunities in these large urban centres hampers the lives of millions of people, who - in the absence of work elsewhere - are unable to develop their life projects as they would like to. Cities are therefore subject to recovery, but they must do so with a focus on social justice.

No less important is climate justice and the move towards greener cities. Bringing nature into cities and greening our neighbourhoods is one of the greatest and most underused tools at our disposal for improving the quality of life for all.

It can increase the quantity and quality of research and development of new innovations, encourage citizens to act and improve their own neighbourhoods, create a culture of appreciation of green spaces and increase the number of green infrastructure projects, among many other initiatives.

Urban and rural communities of all sizes are therefore key actors and stakeholders in the successful implementation of EU-funded policies embodied in resilience plans.

A framework of co-governance between the different institutional and population levels is the best guarantee for achieving new decent living, working and health environments for the post-COVID-19 era.