UChicago Focuses on the Future of Cities in a Post-COVID-19 World | Chicago News


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This month, the University of Chicago welcomes its third “Urban october”To focus on the issue of improving urban life for the billions of people who live in cities around the world in the wake of a pandemic that has highlighted inequalities around the world and in Chicago.

The goal is to help draw attention to the work underway to transform the cities of the future, and Chicago in particular, in a post-COVID-19 and climate-changing world.

Even before the pandemic, it is telling that when employment was low and the stock market soared, many Americans struggled to cope, according to former 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar, who is now a Senior Advisor at UCicago’s Inclusive Economics Lab.

“In 2018, we had a historically low unemployment rate nationwide. The stock market was becoming gangbusters. And yet, only four in ten Americans had $ 400 in the bank, ”he said. “A majority lived from check to check and poverty was increasing”,

Perhaps counterintuitively, Pawar notes that poverty in the United States has declined during a global pandemic, “and that’s because his government has provided unprecedented aid.”

“What I think is important behind all of this is the fundamental orthodoxy – economic orthodoxy – that has guided American public policy for the past 50 years has been laid bare,” Pawar said. . “It was not just about simultaneous crises of poverty, inequality, wealth gap and climate. This is the underlying logic of the past 50 years. Neoliberalism has been laid bare. And so my point is that if you want to rebuild better, we need new economic assumptions, new economic orthodoxy. “

Pawar notes that large swathes of Chicago have little or no access to capital, and that without access to capital, you’re going to have “glaring voids.”

“And so it seems to me that we are still trying to make up for the lack of investment and access to capital in divested communities with everything but access to capital,” he said.

The philanthropic model is part of the problem, according to Pawar, “because it allows a few people who have benefited from inequality to determine what cities are able to do to solve the problems created by inequality,” he said. “The people who create inequality are the ones who decide what the city can do to address this inequality. “

One obvious impact of the pandemic has been the accelerating trend of more people working from home and fewer workers in downtown offices.

It’s a potentially worrying trend, according to Luis Bettencourt, director of UCicago’s Mansueto Institute for Global Innovation, who says most American cities are generally linked together by a central business district. He says that if that connection starts to break down because fewer and fewer people are working downtown, “it’s very problematic”.

Bettencourt believes that after the pandemic has receded, certain sectors – particularly creative jobs which benefit from close collaboration – are likely to stimulate a return to the office for some workers. But he also believes that some companies will think that having people work from home is an opportunity to save on office expenses.

Speaking of the huge inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted and exposed, Bettencourt says that for cities to continue to thrive, they must work for all residents.

“In Chicago, I don’t necessarily mean how well we did or how badly we did,” Bettencourt said. “But obviously we could do better. And part of the problem is that Chicago is a very unequal city, and I think it’s a place where it’s very difficult to be poor because of the history of segregation and poverty, but also because a lot of support services… are very curative. “

He notes that for a city to function effectively and create economic opportunities, a network of complex functions must come together and function well.

“And that means in particular that people who live in cities, they need support,” said Bettencourt. “They need good services, good housing, good environments in which they can be healthy. They need conflict resolution. They need all kinds of things that allow them to interact with each other. And through these interactions essentially create the economic value (and civic life of the city). … This is really the raison d’être of cities, ”said Bettencourt. “That’s why they exist.”

A profound change that all cities will face in the future is the impact of climate change. While this impact may be more evident in some regions than in others – especially coastal areas – the reality is that all cities will face climate change.

“We are already experiencing some of the impacts of climate change,” said Sabina Shaikh, director of UCicago’s Global Environment Program. “So, it’s not something we should continue to think of as far into the uncertain future. Obviously, these impacts are much more visible in some places than others. In Chicago, we don’t see the coastal waves and the wildfires and what’s going on in other parts of the country or the world. But we’re already living with the forecast – which are more extreme and intense rain and heat events – and it’s going to continue to become more frequent. ”

Cities will need to plan and invest to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change, says Shaikh, and that while we may have technological solutions, “we must always collectively have the will to do it.”

Shaikh says our limitations in working together to put the pandemic behind us are a good example of what happens when that collective will is not there.

“Due to incredible scientific and public health research, we had a lot of information on how to deal with COVID, but the behavioral dimension of it has been so difficult,” Shaikh said. “And I think it’s similar in terms of slowing down environmental degradation, but also in terms of building our resilience to climate change.”

Part of this adaptation process will require a fundamental overhaul of urbanization and land use, according to Shaikh.

“We were really good at designing the way we wanted to live, but it also created problems in developing places that maybe could have been preserved for coastal protection or for protection against wildfires. So in modern society, if we didn’t have water where we wanted it, we designed it to come to us, ”Shaikh said. “I think we need to rethink that a bit and try to restore ecosystems that provide the kind of natural protection needed to withstand certain climate effects.”

While the impact of climate change is global, Shaikh notes that the impacts can be very localized.

“You might think the weather in Chicago is the weather in Chicago, but the effects of climate change can be endured very differently from neighborhood to neighborhood due to historical policies, land use, and environmental exposures. that result from the economic system, the political system and the historical discriminatory practices, ”Shaikh said.

Probably the biggest threat posed by climate change to Chicagoans are more intense flooding and heat waves. Part of the solution in terms of creating greater resilience to such events will be more green spaces and more permeable paved surfaces, Shaikh explains.

“The important thing is that we need more resilience in the face of these conditions. This will require investments at all levels, from a particular property or house to the city and globally, starting with investing in those who are most vulnerable due to existing conditions, ”Shaikh said. .

And ultimately, successful cities have had to constantly reinvent and evolve to stay relevant and attract people.

“The truth is, we are here for important reasons,” Bettencourt said. “Cities open up possibilities and opportunities in life in so many different ways. They welcome diversity. They create collaboration. These are the places where democracy was invented. So these are processes. … And cities have (evolving and adapting to change) from the start, and they will continue to do so without something really catastrophic. So I am very optimistic. I think this noisy dynamic that we often associate with a problem in cities is normal. “

Note: This story will be updated with a video.

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