More than 90 per cent of Covid-19 cases are occurring in urban areas, with the pandemic showing that urban design and planning can impact our health.
How we plan and develop urban areas, build infrastructure and respond to the needs of growing populations are factors determining the long-term prosperity of cities and people, according to the United Nations’ latest sustainable development goals report.
The report finds that the pandemic is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest, including the one billion residents of the globe’s densely-populated informal settlements and slums.
“The pandemic has made it clear that urban planning is crucial for better public health and for mitigating people’s vulnerabilities to other hazards, such as natural disasters,” United Nations secretary-general António Guterres said.
^ Square metres per person. Source: UN Sustainable Development Goals Report
As of May 2020, the UN found that 154 countries have some form of national urban plan, with many federal and city governments now revisiting those plans to help prevent the next pandemic.
“Everything we do during and after this Covid-19 crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face,” Guterres said.
“Cities will emerge from the pandemic, but whether they are prepared for the next crisis will depend on how much they can advance data-driven inclusive and sustainable urban development.”
^ * Walking distance. Source: UN Sustainable Development Goals Report
The design of urban areas and transport systems can also impact on public health and wellbeing—and with many cities still experiencing forms of lockdown, open public spaces are in high demand.
Both Australia and New Zealand rank highly in terms of access to open public spaces—such as parks and riverfront—with 78 per cent of its population within 400 metres walking distance.
Globally, the share of the population that can access open public spaces averaged 46.7 per cent—according to 2019 data from 610 cities in 95 countries—with wide disparities seen in access, as low as 26.8 per cent in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.
In its Sustainable Cities and Communities section, the UN report also found that only half the world’s urban population has convenient access to public transport.
Northern Africa and Western Africa ranked the lowest, with 31 per cent and 33 per cent of its population within suitable walking distance to transport systems.
Australia and New Zealand also ranked highly for convenient access to public transport, with 83 per cent of Australia’s population within 500 metres’ walking distance of transport options such as buses and trams.