Coronavirus: we’re in a real-time laboratory of a more sustainable urban future

By Paul Chatterton on 30 April 2020

A pause has been forced on urban life. Quiet roads, empty skies, deserted high streets and parks, closed cinemas, cafés and museums – a break in the spending and work frenzy so familiar to us all. The reality of lockdown is making ghost towns of the places we once knew. Everything we know about our urban world has come to a shuddering halt. For now.

The lockdown will, at some point, end. Urban life will begin to hum again to the familiar rhythms of work, leisure and shopping. This will be a huge relief for us all. Yet our towns and cities will never be the same. Indeed, things might get worse before they get better.

But it’s also the case that other crises haven’t gone away. Our relatively brief lockdown won’t solve longer-term urban problems: dependence on fossil fuels, rising carbon emissions, poor air quality, dysfunctional housing markets, loss of biodiversity, divisions between the rich and the poor, low paid work. These are going to need our attention again.

The coronavirus crisis has offered a new perspective on these problems – and the limits of the way we have run our urban world over the last few decades. Cities are key nodes in our complex and highly connected global society, facilitating the rapid flow of people, goods and money, the rise of corporate wealth and the privatisation of land, assets and basic services. This has brought gains for some through foreign travel, an abundance of consumer products, inward investment and steady economic growth.

Read the full article published in the Conversation (April 27, 2020) here.


Paul Chatterton

Paul Chatterton is Professor of Urban Futures in the School of Geography, University of Leeds. Paul is also co-founder and resident of the award winning low impact housing co-operative Lilac, Leeds Community Homes and Kirkstall Valley Development Trust. His recent books include Low Impact Living (Routledge) and Unlocking Sustainable Cities (Pluto Press)-


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