Our Turkish Editor Ahsen Melek Kocatürk caught up with Professor Dr. Sukru Karatepe, Chief Advisor of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, Responsible for the Municipalities and Cities, about the outbreak of COVID-19 and how cities can manage the pandemic.
The expectation that working from home will continue even after the pandemic has created an opportunity for cities to reduce traffic density. The decrease in industrial activities and human mobility during the pandemic process has reduced environmental pollution in general, particularly fossil fuel-based air pollution.
- Ambiguities in Process of Pandemic
The COVID-19 outbreak that the world is currently experiencing was first viewed as a health-related issue during its infancy. It has become increasingly apparent that the facilities of modern medicine presently available to us have fallen short in preventing the spread of the virus, creating deep uncertainties going forward. The pandemic has also sought to unearth economic, social and psychological issues, eclipsing the initial health-related concerns. We have seen that the countries capable of creating a sound balance between economic and pandemic-oriented restrictions have managed the crisis more successfully, experiencing reduced adversity.
While countries which have prioritised the safety of its citizens through the successful management of the pandemic, the sense of trust has weakened in the countries that have failed to do so. Government response is being driven by health specialists, superseding the traditional decision-making authorities in terms of the implementation of policy in practice. However, the more successful measures taken during the pandemic were exhibited by countries which balanced health concerns with political and social policy analysis.
- Effective Management Against The Pandemic
The pandemic has shown that digitalisation, strong leadership, sustainability, governance and flexible management are vital in the formulation and effective implementation of public policies. Those that have disregarded the importance of digitalisation have had to play catchup in the wake of the crisis. This has included the transfer of industries such as retail, banking, education and work to digital channels which would have otherwise been expected to have been achieved within a 5-10-year period.
The environment of uncertainty and insecurity that has permeated all parts of society can be mitigated by effective decision-making and coordination, highlighting the need for strong leadership. Strong political leaders are able to more effectively implement policy as well as increasing the likelihood of keeping their citizens safe.
It has been widely understood that one of the causes of the pandemic can be attributed to the destruction of nature and natural habitats by way of industrialisation and urbanisation. This has therefore brought the issues of sustainability to the forefront of the political agenda.
The health and safety institutions which have been the most responsive to the continual developments of the pandemic have achieved the most success. However, the regulatory and supervisory practices of public authorities alone are not adequate in limiting the effects of the pandemic. In order to effectively fight against the outbreak, individuals, non-governmental organisations, universities and the private sector also had to adopt the measures taken.
The pandemic has also shown the negative consequences of improper dwelling spaces and bad urbanism; the largest impacts of the virus attributed to the local management of cities.
- New Opportunities and Threats
The pandemic has created new opportunities for building a better world and better liveable cities. Land speculators, property owners, urban planners and zoning practitioners have been aiming to build more constructions in urban spaces. Taking lessons from the pandemic, the importance of creating safer, healthier and sustainable urban textures, reducing the population, reducing building densities and giving priority to the improvement of problematic areas with urban transformation has been perceived.
Switching to smart city applications during the pandemic process has facilitated access by moving the service sector to digital environments. The expectation that working from home will continue even after the pandemic has created an opportunity for cities to reduce traffic density. The decrease in industrial activities and human mobility during the pandemic process has reduced environmental pollution in general, particularly fossil fuel-based air pollution. Although the situation is temporary, it is important from this perspective that future measures relating to the environment are considered in order to preserve the natural environment.
The most negative impact of the pandemic is the loss of productive potential of the economy. The deceleration or suspension of activities in critical sectors, postponement of investments, reduction of human activities, cuts in consumption expenditures, slowing of tourism, export losses and the disruption on the labour market are the main economic negativities that lead cities into hardship. When economic relations slow down, local governments’ revenues and tax shares received from the central government decrease. The municipalities that have had difficulties in carrying out their services undertaken under normal conditions have been trying to overcome the additional costs brought by the pandemic by borrowing more. Such loans which have relieved the municipalities in the short term will certainly have a higher cost in the long-term.
During the pandemic period, the construction and operation of infrastructure, transportation and environmental facilities of cities were decelerated, causing the economy to shrink and job opportunities to decrease. This is reflected more in low-income segments further exacerbating the inequalities between different districts of cities, creating an environment for illegal activities and gaps in the fight against the pandemic. Isolation experienced by many abiding by strict quarantine rules have experienced economic and social deprivation, stress and psychological problems.
- Measures Required to Be Taken
The main measures required to be taken by the municipalities managing the cities in reducing the effects of the pandemic can be summarised below:
- Trust increasing measures: In order to stop the spread of the pandemic, the municipalities must effectively keep on top of the water supply through cleaning and supervision, in harmony with the health and security authorities. Being guided by accurate information-based perception management, the municipality should also contribute towards the creation of a positive and opportunity-focused agenda.
- Leadership and common mind: Municipalities should encourage an environment of consultation and collaboration to reduce the negative effects of the pandemic. By formulating consultation clusters designed to discuss the basic problems of cities, a solution that works for all can be achieved.
- Stimulating the economy: While planning for the future, development models need to emphasise inclusiveness, sustainability and economic opportunity. Under the leadership of municipalities, an “economic and social council” should be convened as a continuous platform with the participation of relevant public and private sector actors.
- Inclusive social support: Cultural events, sport and the promotion of healthy living activities should be organised together with volunteer groups in line with the pandemic measures in order to improve public health and morale. Various spaces should be created & used to cater to the needs of the most vulnerable in society such as the disabled, sick, unemployed, isolated, elderly and low-income workers.
- Resilient city design: The uncertainty and multidimensional nature of the virus has meant that it is necessary to prepare and take further precautions. National and international programs should be initiated on risk and crisis management.
- Smart city applications: Digitalisation should be encouraged in the service sector, political participation, and corporate communication. Digitalisation helps make the municipal administration an open system. This can help reduce bureaucracy and help facilitate access to services as well as increasing citizen satisfaction.
- Global city agendas: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of sound political, economic, environmental and social policy at a national and global level. These should be applied to cities, being followed up by the municipalities. Environments where good practices of municipalities that can be shared at a national and global level should be encouraged.
- Sustainable environment: By taking advantage of the opportunity to increase awareness in the sustainability of the environment, the municipalities should give more importance to the protection of green areas, the circular economy, and keeping the environment clean. Furthermore, awareness should be increased in order to achieve the active participation of citizens in areas such as urban aesthetics, urban awareness, urban design, street and neighbourhood belonging, bicycle use and street animals.