Recasting the City, Lives & Livelihoods, and Inequality in the post-COVID World (ReCLIC)

Blog 20th March 2024

In this guest post, Dr Komali Yenneti, Professor Debolina Kundu, Professor Poornima Shekhar Singh and Dr Rosa Teimouri discuss their research on the nexus between cities, inequalities and COVID-19, which was supported by a Seminar Series Awards grant from the USF. 

Cities are hubs of innovation, economic growth and employment opportunities. At the same time, cities are currently experiencing a radical shift and major challenges around poverty, inequalities, climate change, and a range of other socio-economic fragilities that are often painted by utopian visions of urban life. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the lives of the most vulnerable: people on the cliff edges of the city. Whether it is the worst-ever lockdown-induced urban migrant workers crisis in India, or the failure of New York City’s healthcare system to protect the lives of the working class and people of colour, COVID-19 has brought urban inequalities to the surface. The 20th-century ‘city of dreams’ metaphors have been replaced by ‘city of dreams no more’ to explain the impacts on lockdown generation and the legacy of entrenched inequality that the pandemic has left on urban environments. Concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on urban life and the shifting class character of disease incidence and spread have increasingly led to discussions on the potential challenges in different parts of the world. Yet, there is little holistic knowledge of the different dimensions of urban inequalities and the effects of post-COVID-19 urban divides in our globally linked cities.

Photographs from Urban Thinkers Lab, NIUA, New Delhi, India (Event #1)
Photographs from Urban Thinkers Lab, NIUA, New Delhi, India (Event #1) Source: ReCLIC Project

‘Recasting the City, Lives & Livelihoods, and Inequality in the post-COVID world (ReCLIC)’ was a transnational and transdisciplinary seminar series project and a collaborative attempt to acknowledge and critically engage policy, urban planning, epidemiology, health care, and social action. We facilitated discussions on the social, economic, spatial and cultural dimensions of the impact of COVID-19, multiple forms of inequalities (income, spatial, access to basic services, access to human capital opportunity) and direct and indirect effects of post-COVID-19 urban divides in cities. The series focused on engaging policymakers, practitioners and other forms of collective global action in ‘across the table’ discussions to build post-pandemic policy responses by reducing inequalities in cities and building their resilience. ReCLIC underscored the concerns of a new class of vulnerable population that was previously unrecognised and living at the ‘edges’ of the city. It re-emphasised the need for immediate and long-term risk reduction policies and programmatic interventions both as reactive and pro-active measures to counter the current and future pandemics. By bringing together important conversations on the spatial epidemiology of COVID-19 in Iran, the impact of COVID-19 on urban lives and livelihoods in India, and the incidence and outcomes of COVID-19 among the global majority of people in the UK, the ReCLIC seminar series consolidated debates on the multiple lived realities of cities across different sections of society and across different groups of countries. The knowledge exchange and outcomes from the series will hopefully encourage inter-agency collaborative initiatives both in the Global North and Global South while planning resilient and sustainable cities.

ReCLIC comprised four workshops between May 2022 and April 2023. The first event, with the Urban Thinkers Lab (UTL), was ‘Contemplating Urban Precarity in Post COVID Cities‘ (New Delhi, India, May 2022), which brought together a mix of researchers, policymakers, practitioners, architects, and urban planners from across India to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on cities. There were three engaging panels on a) migrants and the poor, b) children, elderly, and disabled people, and c) spatial integration and exclusion. It discussed urban challenges in the post-pandemic era and focused on the urgent need to engage stakeholders ‘across the table’ to find solutions to these issues. Discussions from this event highlighted the need for an integrated approach to health, public policies and social actions to rebuild cities and address the long-prevailing challenges around poverty, climate change, and a range of socio-economic fragilities persistent in the cities.

ECRs at the Workshop (Event #2)
ECRs at the Workshop (Event #2) Source: ReCLIC Project

The second event was a five-day early career workshop on ‘Geospatial Analytics and Urban Planning’ (Patna, India, May 2022). Eighteen early career researchers from across India participated in a training program that involved a combination of lectures and hands-on training sessions on key topics, including a) climate change, b) cities, modelling and COVID-19, and c) dashboards, urban built environments and modelling.

The third event was an international workshop called ‘Cities, Inequalities and COVID-19’ (Wolverhampton, UK, October 2022). The event was organised into three sessions that brought together key discussions on a) health inequalities and disadvantaged communities, b) gender, resource access and inequalities, and c) urban specifics and divides. The presentations were followed by a one-hour world café workshop session aimed at identifying key issues and developing recommendations and strategies for addressing the short-, medium- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 upon marginal urban communities.

The final event, ‘Cities, Social Inequalities and COVID-19’ (Adelaide, South Australia, April 2023), involved a mix of researchers, students and government representatives. This seminar was originally planned to be held in Iran but was moved to Australia due to mitigating circumstances. However, most of the speakers and their works represented issues in Iran. The presentations highlighted key issues related to a) urban environments, health and well-being and b) the transformation of places and spaces. The seminar highlighted that social inequalities in Iranian cities during COVID-19 were engendered through factors like overcrowded housing in compact areas, increased number of car trips by the higher income groups and that protective health and well-being safety nets such as maintaining or promoting accessibility to green, open and blue spaces were critical for physical and mental health.

Photograph from the Seminar World Café Workshop, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK (Event #3)
Workshop, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK (Event #3) Source: ReCLIC Project

All events:

  • Encouraged interdisciplinary participation and collaboration among experts from various fields, such as public health, urban planning, sociology, economics, and governance. This will promote diverse perspectives and a holistic understanding of the interconnectedness between COVID-19, cities, and inequalities.
  • Engaged a diverse group of stakeholders such as policymakers, researchers, practitioners, and affected communities themselves. This enabled inclusive dialogues, knowledge sharing, and identification of practical solutions to the challenges arising from COVID-19-related urban inequalities.
  • Covered a wide range of topics under the overarching theme of COVID-19, cities, and inequalities. This includes discussions on the impact of the pandemic on urban living, access to healthcare, economic disparities, the digital divide, and social justice issues, among others. The discussions had a balance between theoretical discussions, practical insights, research findings, case studies, and real-world experiences.

    Photograph from seminar, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia (Event #4)
    Photograph from the seminar, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia (Event #4) Source: ReCLIC Project
  • Improved understanding that the various impacts and urban inequalities across different geographical and cultural contexts can provide valuable insights and comparative perspectives. One of the main objectives of this seminar series project was to facilitate discussions between the Global North and the Global South.
  • Provided opportunities for networking and collaboration among participants. For example, the New Delhi event provided opportunities for participants to connect, share their work, and identify potential collaborations in research and policy.

In summary, this seminar series project brought together key stakeholders from ‘around the table’ to evaluate, explain and address inequalities and vulnerabilities in post-COVID-19 cities and urban areas. The initiative aimed to support both government and community initiatives as well as other urban collective responses to ‘rebuilding the city’ post-COVID-19. It fostered international cooperation through the exchange of knowledge, interventions and experiences.