Mayors from Seoul to Seattle are stepping up plans to make their cities greener and healthier as part of a global strategy to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and fight climate change at the same time.
Cities around the world are the single largest source of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet. Many cities have already been investing in programmes to cut air pollution, such as tree planting, promoting more energy-efficient buildings and backing electric vehicles.
But the pandemic and the huge stimulus packages announced by governments have led to calls to accelerate those investments. This is, in part, to create jobs but also to cut air pollution and make cities safer in a world where greater social distancing will be the norm.
Some examples include giving pedestrians more room by widening footpaths, expanding networks of cycling lanes and creating more green spaces.
Many cities facing lockdowns have already seen air pollution fall sharply, giving residents and administrators a vision of what a low-carbon future could be like - one where streets are not clogged with polluting traffic or the air fouled by industry.
Last week, mayors and senior officials from 11 major cities worldwide held talks to coordinate how they can promote an economic recovery that improves public health, reduces inequality and addresses the climate crisis.
They are part of the newly formed Global Mayors Covid-19 Recovery Task Force, which is run by the C40 Cities network.
The cities represented last week included Hong Kong, Lisbon, Medellin, Milan, Melbourne, Seattle and Seoul. Their aim is to promote an economic recovery that gets people back to work, while preventing climate change from becoming an even bigger crisis by channelling investment away from dirty fossil fuels.
Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala, who is heading the task force, said: "Our immediate priority is to protect the health of our residents and overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we must also look towards how we will keep our people safe in the future. How we structure our recovery efforts will define our cities for decades to come."
The leaders discussed measures including retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, mass tree planting and investment in solar and wind power.
Milan last month said 35km of its streets will be transformed over the next few months, with a major expansion of cycling and walking spaces.
According to The Guardian, the plan includes temporary cycling lanes, new and widened pavements, 30kmh speed limits, and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets.
Other cities have recently announced greatly increased cycling and pedestrian networks, driven in part by guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking," the WHO said, referring to moving around during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The mayor of Paris has allocated €300 million (S$460 million) for a network of cycling lanes, many of which will follow existing train lines, to offer an alternative to public transport. The city already had plans to increase its cycling network but fast-tracked them because of the pandemic and recently announced 650km of cycleways - including a number of pop-up "corona cycleways".
In the Colombian capital Bogota, the mayor has opened up nearly 117km of new bike routes since mid-March to cut congestion and improve safe distancing.
The C40 Cities network has been a key driver for the world's cities to become more liveable and to cut greenhouse gas emissions and waste.
Nearly 100 cities with more than 700 million people are part of the network - Singapore included.
The United Nations Environment Programme says cities are responsible for about 75 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, with transport and buildings being among the largest contributors.
That makes cities key to global efforts to cut emissions and try to limit global warming, which in turn is threatening cities with more extreme weather and rising sea levels.
Mr Mark Watts, chief executive of C40 Cities, said mayors have a lot of power to protect their citizens and shape the direction of the recovery. "There is now a hell of a lot of collaboration among very powerful politicians who do think a green economic recovery is absolutely essential," The Guardian quoted him as saying.
SEVEN THINGS CITY LEADERS CAN DO
1 Remove through motor traffic from residential streets and extend pavements near shops, schools and parks to make walking safe and enjoyable for transport and exercise.
2 Introduce safe access routes for foot, bike and scooter from homes to parks, as well as automatic pedestrian lights at crossings so people do not have to push buttons and risk infection.
3 Establish safe cycling routes to and from work for key workers, especially hospital staff, by closing roads so people have a safe alternative to private cars and public transport.
4 Create safe walking and cycling routes to and from schools, and close streets around schools to motor vehicles during drop-off and pick-up times.
5 Use libraries, schools and sports stadiums to distribute nutritious, sustainably produced food to communities in need, and scale up food waste collection and treatment, including distributing household composting kits and guidance.
6 Retrofit all public buildings, many of which are empty now, to drastically improve energy efficiency and create thousands of green jobs.
7 Work with other cities to invest the billions tied up in city funds and pensions in climate solutions to drive green job creation and create a more resilient and sustainable economy.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN