As Covid-19 creates or enhances inequity, including already poor health disparities, disability and inadequate economic opportunities, how are cities embedding equity as a fundamental principle of recovery planning?

The City of Louisville, US, is taking the opportunity to tackle systemic racism and deliver dynamic economic growth through the ‘Build Back Better, Together’ program. One city taskforce is focusing on ensuring that there are economic opportunities for graduates and a promise of two years of college tuition free at local public institutions. In the process, the city is trying to engage Louisvillians to seek innovative ideas from residents and community leaders and adapt or accelerate existing government and community-led projects to tackle challenges presented or exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In Hawaii, US, the plan for moving past Covid-19 includes new economic plans and policies. The Hawaii Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Covid-19 was prepared using a participatory process and driven by those experiencing financial strain due to the pandemic and the resultant economic fallout. The plan also emphasizes expanding maternal health services in rural areas by harnessing midwifery and building education and childcare infrastructure. With this plan, Hawaii is not rushing in to rebuild the status quo, but to transition into an economy that better addresses the gaps in healthcare, ecological, social and economic policies revealed by the epidemic. 

Hawaii Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Covid-19 

In Boston, US, the City’s Reopening Economy Group supports the gradual re-opening of Boston and will put equity at the center of its goal. The group is looking at the most vulnerable residents and the most economically at-risk industries, engaging them in the process to inform planning as well as to develop industry-specific safety and health protocols.  

In London, UK, Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the London Resilience Fund which is the £1 million GBP innovation program to support London’s small businesses and civic society emerge from the current crisis stronger and more resilient. The fund will support a range of objectives including tackling inequality. 

In Greater Manchester, UK, the benefits of including those affected by Covid-19 in the recovery included better decision-making that is based on evidence and data, increased transparency, support for improved social inclusion and cohesion, and equality. This inclusive approach also ensures that the needs of individuals affected are central to the decisions that are made for future delivery of response and recovery action. 

Previous outbreaks of disease have shown that public health policies are most effective when governments work closely with informal communities. Poor sanitation, cramped living conditions, and insufficient health facilities put those living in informal settlements at higher risk from Covid-19. In Monrovia, Liberia, informal settlements were key to combatting the Ebola epidemic of 2014. By working with trusted community leaders and faith-based groups on the ground, the city was able to work with the public health ministry to manage successful quarantines and prevent the spread of misinformation.  

In Australia, local governments are undertaking capability gap assessments to identify sectors that lack enough skilled personnel to undertake recovery projects. In New Zealand, the central government is focusing on the role of the construction industry in positively impacting the economy and is implementing programs to upskill trades people in preparation for building works. Both countries are reinstating apprenticeships in vocational jobs such as construction, plumbing and electrical work to support young people, and short and long term economic regeneration. 

Further resources:

Lesson: Hear from Mayor Fischer of Louisville on how the city is embedding equity in their ‘Build Back Better, Together’ program on Cities on the Frontline #8 – Equity in Recovery

Practice: Hawaii Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19. The feminist Covid-19 response and recovery plan highlight key and emerging principles and recommendations. 

Practice: Building Back Better Together. The initiative tackles today’s pressing needs and outlines longer term specific strategies to bring about a more prosperous and just future for all Louisvillians, particularly those residents who are most impacted by these events. 

Practice: Greater Manchester Recovery Plan. The Greater Manchester approach to addressing inequality includes ensuring that no businesses or individuals are left behind due to the digital divide in the city. It also aims to focus school re-opening on ensuring that disadvantaged students do not fall further behind. 

Practice: Boston established a City’s Reopening Economy Group that put equity at the center of its goal. 

Practice: London Resilience Fund is supporting small businesses and civic societies to address issues including inequality. 

Lesson: COVID-19 Response and Communities as part of the Solution. Working with informal communities was essential to Monrovia’s success in combatting Ebola, as their input and trust was necessary to manage quarantine internally rather than through coercion. Communication with community activists, public health officials, and religious groups was essential to combatting misinformation during that epidemic. 

Opinion: Ensuring an equitable recovery: Disability inclusion in post-disaster planning. Disability-inclusive recovery is about creating equal opportunities through the removal of barriers. We can do this by gathering baseline disability data and incorporating that in post-disaster needs assessments, by mainstreaming disability inclusion in the recovery program, and by recommending specific interventions. Importantly, persons with disabilities should be consulted throughout the process.