FILE PHOTO: A woman passes empty tables before the late-night curfew due to restrictions against the spread of the coronavirus…
FILE - A woman passes empty tables before the late-night curfew due to restrictions against the spread of COVID-19 takes effect, in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 14, 2020.

GENEVA - The United Nations says cities will be critical to a global COVID-19 recovery. On Saturday, World Cities Day, U.N. agencies urged governments to make cities more resilient and better able to bounce back from the adverse impact of COVID-19-induced health, environmental and other disasters.

The number of global coronavirus infections at midday EDT Saturday was 45.8 million, with nearly 1.2 million deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Cities are at the epicenter of the pandemic. Urban areas, home to nearly 3 billion people, account for 95 percent of COVID-19 cases, according to the U.N. Human Settlements Program, or U.N.-Habitat.

Lockdown measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus have devastated the economies and once-vibrant cultural activities of urban areas. A U.N. Habitat report argues cities can rebound and flourish with appropriate policies.

Paola Deda, director of Forest, Land and Housing at the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, said the U.N. document calls for building back better in all aspects of urban life.

'15-minute cities'

“The pandemic has shown very, very clearly the importance of properly planned public transport," Deda said. She stressed the value of having "15-minute cities — the need to have your services very near to you so that public transport does not need to be overcrowded and, in particular, also so that the private car is not the only means for moving in a city and to make the city more sustainable.”

Deda dismissed arguments that since urban sprawl has commercial and economic benefits, cities should be allowed to grow exponentially. She said compact cities are much better for the environment and for quality of life.

A "well-planned, compact city," she said, permits reduced use of transport and more efficient use of energy. It's "the shape of the city and its environmental value, how the green places are well-planned in the city, that would make a difference in terms of sustainability.”

Authors of the U.N.-Habitat report said urban areas can reduce social inequalities. That can be done by providing affordable housing for the poor and creating safe spaces for marginalized groups, such as migrants and LGBTQ individuals.

They urged national authorities to empower local governments to raise revenue to improve municipal services and public services, as well as to regulate land use and to set limits on urban sprawl. The aim, they said, is to create cities emerging from the pandemic that are healthier, more sustainable and more livable.

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