Pandemic lessons. European cities introduce new projects for the development of the urban environment – why these practices are useful

    20 Oct 2021

    The crisis is not only a drop in the economy and changing the usual lifestyle, but also the window of opportunities for change. The COVID-19 pandemic stopped city life around the world, but also made it possible to restart it on new basic.

    Let’s get to know what this restart is, thankfully to the “Knife” and the Center of promising management decisions. This is a story about the behavior of states in crisis conditions. Authors describe how Milan, Vilnius and Amsterdam prepare to change for the better.

    The exit from the crisis provides governments with the opportunity not only to return to normal life, but also to realize qualitative changes. The leaders of international organizations are calling for world leaders. The UN performs under the slogan “Build Back Better”, and the OECD Secretary General emphasizes that the governments have a unique chance to the “green and inclusive recovery” of the economy they should take advantage. The request for changes is recorded and sociological surveys in individual countries.

    This story highlight how the crisis pushes the authorities to revise the usual approaches. Since many countries still have to get out of quarantine, it is worth paying attention to possible best practices. The first update examples are already noticeable at the city level.

    Italy, Milan: less traffic, less air pollution

    What happened?

    On April 21, 2020, Milan’s authorities announced the Open Streets Program (Strade Aperte) to change transport mobility in the city.

    Thirty-five kilometers of roads will be redone to new routes for cyclists and pedestrians in the coming months.

    This will be done in the rapid experimental mode. In addition, according to the plan published on April 30, the city will increase the number of roads with a temperate high-speed regime, they will create new social spaces, they will spend point changes in the format of tactical urbanism, they will simplify the ability to put tables on the free areas of the streets for bars and restaurants.

    How is it related to coronavirus?

    The Milan’s authorities’ initiative is motivated by economic and environmental considerations. As an adviser on the urban planning of Pierrefrant Marans states, the program will speed up updating the city, which was launched before the epidemic. Mobility adviser Marco Grakelli also draws attention to the need to reduce air pollution.

    In 2019, Milan was named the sixth city in Italy in terms of air pollution. According to the mayor, Juseppe Sala, pollution could aggravate the effect of coronavirus infection (according to a new study, the prolonged impact of nitrogen dioxide can be one of the most important factors that increase mortality from COVID-19).

    During quarantine in Milan, as in other major cities, emissions of pollutants have significantly decreased. Thus, according to the European Space Agency, the nitrogen dioxide content from mid-March to mid-April in Milan was 45% lower than for the same period of the previous year. This is caused by a decrease in traffic flows. In the program’s text, it is noted that the plugging index during quarantine decreased by 30-75%. The authorities consider it a good opportunity for experiments with a change in mobility before the number of cars on the street increases.

    The Milan project has an international dimension. According to The Guardian, the former Commissioner of the New York City Transport Department of Transport, Janet Sadik Khan, works with the city authorities. The Association of Transport Departments of American Cities At the end of March, in connection with the Pandemic launched a project, “Transport Response Center”, summarizing world experience and offering urban officials various consulting services.

    What result are the authorities expect?

    “Of course, we want to restore the economy, but we think that it is necessary to do on another basis than before,” says Milan Mochnel Magnelle Mobility Advisor. In the text of the program, an emergency emerging due to an epidemic, named “the ability to make a decisive step towards the widespread use of traditional and electric bikes, scooters and other microbility forms that actually allow you to observe the necessary distance and prevent the spread of new infectious diseases.”

    Similar steps to reduce contamination from vehicles and the development of mobility of cyclists and pedestrians do other cities, such as Paris, Berlin, New York, etc. According to The Guardian, Milan’s program is one of the most large-scale.

    Lithuania, Vilnius: Cafe on city scenes

    What happened?

    On April 22, 2020, the quarantine regime was extended in Lithuania, but some restrictions for public institutions were weakened. According to the requirements of the Ministry of Health of the country, cafes and restaurants can resume open-air work, observing all precautions: visitors and employees are obliged to wear masks; Distance between people in the queues should be at least one meter; Distance between tables – two meters. In addition, more than two people can sit at the table (the requirement does not apply to families and relatives).

    The problem of compliance with the new rules has become apparent in the capital of Lithuania – Vilnius, where the public catering is concentrated in the historic center and adjacent areas to it penetrated by narrow streets and roads.

    On April 24, 2020, the mayor of Vilnius Remigius Shimashaus reported that, despite the resolution, many cafes and restaurant owners considered the impossible work in accordance with the requirements. In this regard, he announced that all public spaces of the capital would be given to support establishments.

    A new Talonai digital service was also launched, allowing you to buy cafes and restaurants for the future.

    The Shimashaus initiative attracted the attention of the world media: The Guardian wrote that “the capital of Lithuania will turn into a huge outdoor cafe”, and Columnist Los Angeles Times advised Los Angeles to take an example from Vilnius.

    How is it related to coronavirus?

    Cafes and restaurants are places to accumulate people and their long stay in one room. Therefore, the work of such institutions is impossible in an acute epidemiological situation. At the same time, due to the specifics of the work, the public catering does not have sufficient free funds to stop its activities for a long time. Even a couple of complete downtime can lead to colossal losses and closure of business. Therefore, the opportunity to resume work even considering the whole list of restrictions and additional regulations is good news.

    However, due to the narrow urban streets, entrepreneurs cannot arrange tables so that they, on the one hand, did not interfere with the aisle of citizens, and on the other hand, they stood from the establishment at such a distance that the legislation requires. Especially since each restaurant cannot legally put more than one or two tables outside. It turns out that small cafes that do not have sufficient outdoor space at the entrance, could not take advantage of the ability to resume work under current conditions.

    What result is the authorities?

    To solve this problem, Vilnius authorities provided institutions with the opportunity to use public spaces, be it square or square, to serve visitors. While there are 19 such places, their list, and other reference information on the work of catering during this period can be found on the relevant site. The use of social spaces will be completely gratuitous until the end of the season (that is, until September). The resolution procedure was as simplified as much as possible. Until April 29, the institution’s owner had to send a letter to the email address of the administration with an indication of the place where they want to put their tables, and start servicing customers.

    The authorities expect such measures “will help businesses, without which the capital will not feel alive,” carrying a crisis. At the same time, epidemiological safety requirements should be followed. Support measures welcomed by the Association of Lithuanian Hotel and Restaurant Business. According to the Mayor of Remigius Shimashaus, 67 institutions are planning to put more than 800 tables submitted for work in public spaces in public spaces. Through the Talonai service, services were purchased by more than 4 thousand euros.

    Netherlands, Amsterdam: doughnut model. What happened?

    In early April, Amsterdam City Hall adopted the city strategy of the circular economy (closed-type economy) for five years. The basis of the strategy is the model of the punch of the British economist Kate Radort, first implemented at the city level. Simultaneously with the urban strategy, the international team of experts under the leadership of RahoT released a report disclosing the concept of a donut for Amsterdam.

    According to deputy mayor Marica Van Dorneink, the model will help Amsterdam cope with the current crisis’s consequences and not return to the old mechanisms. To implement this idea, it will be necessary to complete the recreation of the production system, consumption, and processing: by 2030, the city in half will reduce the consumption of new raw materials, and to the 2050th will turn to the economy of the closed cycle. The project developed explicitly by an economy for Amsterdam considers the connection of the local and global levels of the economy through the prism of the social and environmental situation in the city and proposes a guide to the work of the government.

    What is a doughnut model?

    The doughnut model clearly represents the ideas of sustainable development. According to Kate Raworth, the author of the model, it illustrates the need to move away from fixing economists only on GDP growth and strive for balanced development, which also considers social and environmental factors. The doughnut form two circumference: the social base (inner boundary) and the ecological ceiling (external). Each of the circles is a limit: the space inside the small circle symbolizes human deprivation (hunger, illiteracy, etc.), and beyond the framework of the critical degradation of the planet. The task of humanity and the state distributing the good in society is to develop the economy in such a way that it is between two circles in the donut dough. This will ensure the well-being of people and at the same time reduce the damage caused by the environment.

    How is it related to coronavirus?

    The doughnut model cannot be called a direct response to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The transition of the Netherlands to the circular economy began several years ago – in 2016 the government adopted the appropriate program until 2050. Since then, in several cities of the country, strategies for its implementation were developed, including in the capital.

    At the same time, the adoption of the strategy in Amsterdam coincided with a pandemic, which actualized the problem of limited resources and pushed the government to find more effective solutions. Obviously, so the deputy mayor of the capital in an interview was emphasized on the fact that the new model would help the city to overcome the economic consequences of the crisis.

    What result is the authorities?

    The urban strategy puts several ambitious tasks in the food, consumer, and construction spheres. Its main goal is to reduce the use of new raw materials by half to 2030 and to the 2050thcompletely  to switch to the circular economy. The city authorities did not specify precisely how the doughnut model will be used when leaving quarantine. Still, the general idea is that the restoration of the economy will be based on new principles.

    Why does it happen?

    To explain how new ideas come to politics and why the crisis serves this convenient point, the concept of policy entrepreneurs helps, initially formulated by the American political scientist John Kingdon.

    By Kingdon, political entrepreneurs are persons promoting specific proposals or ideas that should significantly change the current political course. Entrepreneurs may take a different position regarding power: to be inside the government, work in research organizations, in profile NPOs, etc. Their main characteristic is “willingness to invest its resources – time, energy, reputation and sometimes money – in the hope of getting a return in the future. Such a return for them can be a change in the political course in a favorable direction, satisfaction from participation in this process or even personal growth in the form of work or an increase in position.” Accordingly, the motivation of policy entrepreneurs may include both ideological considerations (the vision of the problem and ways to solve it) and personal and corporate interests.

    According to this approach, in each of the above-above examples of the reaction of the city authorities, such political entrepreneurs can be found from quarantine after a pandemic. In the case of Vilnius – this is the mayor of the city of Remigius Shimashaus; in Milan – Advisors (Deputy Mayors), as well as the Group of Former Transport Commissioner of New York, Janet Sadik Khan. In Amsterdam, it seems that the political entrepreneur was the economist Kate Radort, based on the studies of which were initially designed and then embedded in the city’s exit plan from the crisis after the pandemic model of the donut.

    According to Kingdon, political entrepreneurs get the opportunity to make changes (that is, to make their proposals part of politics or to attract more attention to fundamental problems) during a specific period, which he calls the window of capabilities. Such a window is opened infrequently and for a short time due to any change in the political process or the emergence of new problems, which captures the attention of government officials and their entourage.

    The situation with the coronavirus is a new problem is a large scale, which opens in many areas and provides political entrepreneurs to realize their ideas.

    The Kingdon concept has been developed in many pieces of research, including the work of John Hogan and Sharon Feeney. The feature of their approach is that they make a fundamental difference between the broad group of participants in generating new political ideas and political entrepreneurs. The latter occupy the central position in this process and serve as a bridge between ideas and those who produce them and institutions that implement policies. Without their participation, changes do not occur. In practice, this means that in the considered plots, urban officials play a special role in implementing changes. They can rely on the experience and knowledge of both external experts and their bureaucratic organizations. However, the ideas themselves are not enough for change – they underlie particular agents’ policies.

    That is why it is no coincidence that successful cases of exit from isolation are implemented at the city level. City self-government is the lowest and close to the population of decision-making; it is here that agents and political entrepreneurs can be as close as possible to each other, which significantly facilitates the process of implementing positive changes. The question remains whether states can use such experience and get out of isolation on a qualitatively different level of management, for example, in health care or environmental policy.

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