How to build healthy cities and communities in the post-COVID world

yoga

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Mayuri Ghosh, Head of Healthy Cities and Communities Initiative; Strategy & Public-Private Partnerships, Future of Consumption Platform, World Economic Forum Clarisse Awamengwi, Project Specialist, Future of Consumption Platform, World Economic Forum


  • The COVID-19 crisis has illuminated and exacerbated the structural weaknesses of global health systems, especially in urban areas.
  • In the post-COVID world, we must plan and manage cities so as to minimise risk of disease and ensure equitable access to healthcare.
  • The World Economic Forum Healthy Cities and Communities Initiative is tackling health and well-being in Jersey City, Austin and Mumbai.

The COVID-19 crisis has unveiled the structural weaknesses of not only our economic systems, but also, more critically, our health systems. The world is currently confronting the ineptitude of existing health and well-being infrastructure and the consequences of inadequate preventative health mechanisms, particularly for the most vulnerable in society.

Two key variables stand out in this crisis: urbanisation and inequality.

Even as urban centres are engines of economic growth, they are challenged by rising physical and mental health concerns among large segments of people. Unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, environmental conditions and community and social stress factors are key contributors to this disease burden. As the urban poor have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, the challenges of urbanisation and access to healthy living have catapulted to the forefront of the global agenda.

In the United States, even before the onset of COVID-19, hypertension, major depression and high cholesterol were among the top 10 health conditions having the greatest impact on quality of life in cities and suburbs; together, they have a national health impact of 30%. During the pandemic, physical health conditions such as high cholesterol and diabetes have taken a turn for the worse.

Similarly, in India, residents of growing urban areas had been living increasingly unhealthy lives due to food and lifestyle choices, leading to an increase in noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which may account for 70% of India’s disease burden by 2030. For the urban poor, many living in unhygienic conditions, access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities is another health challenge further exacerbated by the pandemic. Meanwhile, mental health has been a rapidly growing challenge in India, across demographics and socio-economic segments, with an age-adjusted suicide rate of 21.1 per 100,000. Going forward, this could create more than $1 trillion dollars in economic loss by 2030.

COVID-19 patients with existing conditions far more likely to die
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of health care infrastructure and healthy communities.
Image: Statista/CDC

As we continue to wrestle with the consequences of the crisis and contemplate the post-COVID world, we are left with a critical question to answer: How will we plan and manage cities so as to minimise the risk of disease and ensure equitable access to healthcare? Our answer to this question will be the foundation of a more healthy, equitable and just society.

While the call to categorically rethink and reconstruct the nature of our societies is challenging, it presents a unique and necessary opportunity to reshape a future that was already in jeopardy, with looming disasters such as climate change and growing social disintegration. In a rapidly urbanising world, it is imperative that cities are not only drivers of economic growth but also centres of health.

The World Economic Forum is responding to this urgent need to re-examine the relationship between cities and population health through its Healthy Cities and Communities Initiative, which launched in September 2019 as a multi-city platform encompassing a full spectrum of developed and emerging economies. The mission is to empower consumers to achieve long-term health and well-being, with an improved state of holistic health and physical and mental well-being by 2030.

Dimensions ripe for interventions and scaling efforts include:

  • Physical well-being (diet/nutrition, sanitation/hygiene, exercise/physical activity, sleep/rest)
  • Mental well-being (emotional, social, environmental, spiritual, occupational, financial)
World Economic Forum’s Healthy Cities and Communities framework
Image: World Economic Forum’s Healthy Cities and Communities framework

Spearheaded by the Platform for Shaping the Future of Consumption, the Forum is working hand-in-hand with cities to improve holistic health and well-being for diverse communities around the world.

The initiative kicked off in the United States in Jersey City, New Jersey – a city with ~300,000 residents in 2019 – with the Office of the Mayor of Jersey City and the Department of Health and Human Services. In nine months, public-private stakeholders have established a secure supply of nutritious food, via locally sourced vertically farmed greens in collaboration with Aerofarms, and provided personalised diagnostics for healthy living with other private sector collaborators. The initiative has also expedited innovative partnerships on sanitation and hygiene by rolling out Mobile Public Showers.

A worker rides a lift past racks of vertical farming beds lit with light emitting diode
AeroFarms’ vertical gardens in New Jersey
Image: REUTERS/Mike Segar

In July 2020, collaboration also began in Austin, Texas – a city with over 1 million residents – in partnership with global actors such as IBM and local stakeholder groups such as the Austin Healthcare Council.

The third city is the sprawling metropolis of Mumbai, India, a city with more than 20 million residents. The collaboration began in July 2020 in partnership with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. In light of the challenges presented by the coronavirus, sanitation and hygiene have been reemphasized as a key priority, particularly as cities grapple with how to limit contagion in highly dense metropolises such as Mumbai. Innovative public-private interventions will be taken forward with the Toilet Board Coalition’s India chapter. Just as critical will be other cross-cutting dimensions of physical and mental health such as food and nutrition, physical fitness, mental wellness, rest, and occupational and financial health, with mental health being a critical priority for intervention.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity’s greatest achievements – and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

The Healthy Cities and Communities Initiative envisages the creation and improvement of physical, social and community environments that enable people to lead healthier lives and develop to maximize their potential in a truly inclusive way. As such, the need for symbiosis between urban planning, economic development and preventative health has never been greater.

Unquestionably, the process of building truly inclusive health ecosystems within cities will be fraught with challenges and difficulties, yet it is an imperative and a responsibility that we cannot overlook.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year


Re-thinking citizenship education: bringing young people back to the ballot box

Where do Americans stand on immigration? They’re not as divided as you might think

From underestimation to valorization: how mobile technology is transforming global health

EU and U.S. castigate Facebook on Cambridge Analytica scandal as citizens’ data privacy goes down the drain again

The 27 EU leaders did nothing to help May unlock the Brexit talks

Yemen: Security Council backs new mission in support of key port city truce

South Sudan: €48.5 million in additional EU humanitarian aid

FROM THE FIELD: What do you want to be when you grow up? One day I will…

Denouncing attacks against Baghdad protesters, UN warns ‘violence risks placing Iraq on dangerous trajectory’

European Parliament marks EU accession prospects for Serbia and Kosovo

South Sudan: UN rights experts see little headway on peace deal amid spike in local-level violence

Nicaragua ‘crisis’ still cause for concern amid murder, torture allegations: Bachelet

Women lose most from the climate crisis. How can we empower them?

New Consumer Agenda: European Commission to empower consumers to become the driver of transition

These are the most desirable cities for overseas workers

Is Universal Health Coverage really available for all in the European Union?

Force used against protestors in Gaza ‘wholly disproportionate’ says UN human rights chief

The European reaction to the neo-fascist wind

Greece @ MWC14: Greek-born mobile champions at MWC 2014

UN rights chief denounces Burundi for ‘belligerent and defamatory’ attack on inquiry team

Coronavirus: a Disease that spreads as fastly as its fake news

European Youth Forum and youngest MEPs call on President Juncker to keep his promise to Europe’s youth

Haitian President at General Assembly calls for essential development aid as UN mission shifts away from peacekeeping

The European Green Deal sets out how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, boosting the economy, improving people’s health and quality of life, caring for nature, and leaving no one behind

There is huge talent in the world’s refugee camps. We must realize this overlooked potential

How do we really feel about women leaders?

Innovations for Content Professionals at the DCX exhibition 2018 in Berlin, in association with The European Sting

Coronavirus is creating retirement insecurity. These 10 steps can diffuse the timebomb of an ageing population

The EU wants to create 10 million smart lampposts

Circular Plastics Alliance: 100+ signatories commit to use 10 million tons of recycled plastic in new products by 2025

Green Deal: measures to step up the fight against global deforestation

How youth and technology can drive Africa’s COVID-19 response

The community and a decent working conditions for the young health workforce

Trailing the US-EU economic confrontation

FROM THE FIELD: Niger supporting the most vulnerable, as crises mount

These 5 charts show our shifting behaviour around coronavirus

What’s really driving corporate climate action?

Climate change hits the poor hardest. Mozambique’s cyclones prove it

From Israel’s ‘start-up nation’, 4 lessons in innovation

Monday’s Daily Brief: the cost of maternal healthcare, Sudan and Chad updates, sustainability in focus

OECD tells Eurozone to prepare its banks for a tsunami coming from developing countries

Here’s how to rebut the climate doom-mongers

Drones are saving lives in Tanzania’s remote communities

Trade: First year of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement shows growth in EU exports

UN chief urges restraint following reported Saudi-led assault in Yemen

5 steps businesses can take to protect air quality after COVID-19

The EU Parliament slams Commission on economic governance

How the tech sector can power the shift to a sustainable economy

Trash bin at the top of the world: can we prevent Arctic plastic pollution?

Eurozone cannot endure any longer youth marginalisation

European Union and African Union sign partnership to scale up preparedness for health emergencies

Turning challenge into opportunity on the course to becoming the first climate-neutral continent

‘Reef cubes’: could these plastic-free blocks help save the ocean?

Eurozone: Negative statistics bring deflation and recession closer

UN food aid to Yemen will fully resume after two-month break, as Houthis ‘guarantee’ delivery

What happens when you toss your water bottle in the trash?

Safe drinking water, sanitation, are ‘basic human rights’: new UN Water Development report

Parliament to ask for the suspension of EU-US deal on bank data

Dutch voters reject EU-Ukraine partnership and open a new pandora’s box for the EU

Progress made in UN talks to end Yemen war, Envoy lauds ‘positive and serious spirit’

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s