City leaders aim to shape green recovery from coronavirus crisis

Source: Matthew Taylor & Sandra Laville, The Guardian, May 1, 2020

Cities around the world are already planning for life after Covid-19, with a series of environmental initiatives being rolled out from Bogotá to Barcelona to ensure public safety and bolster the fight against climate breakdown.

Mayors from cities in Europe, the US and Africa held talks this week to coordinate their efforts to support a low-carbon, sustainable recovery from the crisis as national governments begin to implement huge economic stimulus packages.

Many cities have already announced measures, from hundreds of miles of new bike lanes in Milan and Mexico City to widening pavements and pedestrianising neighbourhoods in New York and Seattle.

The initiatives are designed to allow people to move around urban spaces safely in a world where physical distancing will be the norm for the foreseeable future – and do so without sparking a drastic increase in air pollution.

The mayors who took part in the newly formed economic taskforce this week believe these initial schemes point the way to more radical long-term measures that will help tackle inequality and the climate crisis.

The mayor of Milan, who is heading the taskforce run by the C40 group of cities, said: “Our immediate priority is to protect the health of our residents and overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we must also look towards how we will keep our people safe in the future. How we structure our recovery efforts will define our cities for decades to come.”

The mayors discussed measures ranging from huge retrofitting programmes to make buildings more energy efficient, to mass tree planting and investment in solar and wind power.

The mayor of Montréal, Valérie Plante, who attended the video meeting, said:“We need more than ever to position our economic recovery in the context of our fight against climate change. It is also clear to me that our economic recovery must go hand in hand with our social recovery.”

Milan has introduced one of Europe’s most ambitious cycling and walking schemes, with 22 miles of streets to be transformed over the summer.

In Paris, the mayor has allocated €300m for a network of cycle lanes, many of which will follow existing metro lines, to offer an alternative to public transport.

In Bogotá, the Colombian capital, a 75-mile network of streets usually turned over to bicycles one day a week will now be traffic-free all week, and a further 47 miles of bike lanes are being opened to reduce crowding on public transport and improve air quality.

New York has unveiled plans to open up 100 miles of streets for “socially responsible recreation” during the Covid-19 crisis, with a focus on areas with the most need, while Oakland, in California,is closing off 75 miles of its streets to passing cars and setting aside up to 10% of streets for recreation.

Mexico City is planning 80 miles of temporary bike lanes, and Barcelona is adding 30,000 square metres to its pedestrianised networks and 13 miles to the biking network.

In the UK, the Scottish government has announced £10m to create pop-up walking and cycling routes, while mayors in northern England have suggested a national programme to retrofit homes with renewable energy technology. On Thursday Manchester city council announced it would pedestrianise part of Deansgate, in the city centre. In London, boroughs including Lambeth and Hackney have announced measures to widen pavements, close roads to traffic and improve walking and cycling.

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