COVID-19 has turned Wuhan into a ghost town, a city that should have been vibrant and teeming with people, revealing how fragile our societies and cities could be in the face of disasters. The outbreak of COVID-19, for which the World Health Organization （WHO） declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, is another wake-up call following the SARS epidemic for countries around the globe to recognize the crisis threatening the health of cities and for scholars of planning to go back to the very issue that they initially focused on which was public health. As COVID-19 rages across the world, we have to ask ourselves: what are the vulnerabilities in our urban building and development and how should we meet the new challenges emerging in the urban health and safety governance system and enhance the immunity of cities?
Vulnerabilities of cities and systems exposed by COVID-19
The COVID-19 epidemic that popped up out of the blue has not only paralyzed cities, but exposed some of the issues concerning the development, building, and governance of cities. On one hand, as cities shifted its highlight from public health to new public health and to healthy city, the focus of modern urban planning has gradually evolved from public health issues to the social, economic, and cultural aspects of a city. But recent years have seen more emphasis on the livability of a city and its job market and tourism when it comes to urban development, building, and governance, but clearly less on urban safety and health of urban residents, leading to COVID-19 outbreaks across cities. On the other, despite a well-established urban disaster prevention and mitigation system to tackle natural disasters in China, an urban emergency management system is still yet to be put in place to mitigate menaces to public health caused by complex social problems, resulting in a less-than-desired initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak and a dysfunctional tional system. Hence, filling the gaps is key to ensuring urban health and safety.
Enhancing immunity of cities: protection and prevention
China has ramped up efforts to build the socalled resilient cities to strengthen the capacity of urban ecosystems in resisting the impact of natural disasters, but how can we enhance such immunity against nonconventional disasters and unexpected epidemics?
This requires a synergy between a comprehensive protection system that functions well in normal times and an epidemic prevention and control system that operates effectively as well during an epidemic. First of all, it’s imperative to build and maintain a safety net that protects the health and safety of a city, which means a rational urban disaster prevention master plan shall be developed to make a city more flexible in responding to disasters incurred by complex social problems on one hand and a greenway system shall be taken into account in urban planning so that an urban natural purification system can be built to offer thorough solutions to any unanticipated incidents. Second, it’s necessary to build a city-wide public health and emergency control system and put in place a prevention net that can be activated and function at any time when an epidemic breaks out in a city, including an urban medical treatment system, a system of epidemic prevention and control at the city, neighborhood, and community levels as well as the government, school, and business levels, and a system of law-based response to epidemic outbreaks that contributes to a law-based net that can deliver effective response.