The COVID-19 pandemic: Impacts on cities and major lessons for urban planning, design, and management

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Dec 20;749:142391. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142391. Epub 2020 Sep 18.


Since the early days of the COVID-19 crisis the scientific community has constantly been striving to shed light on various issues such as the mechanisms driving the spread of the virus, its environmental and socio-economic impacts, and necessary recovery and adaptation plans and policies. Given the high concentration of population and economic activities in cities, they are often hotspots of COVID-19 infections. Accordingly, many researchers are struggling to explore the dynamics of the pandemic in urban areas to understand impacts of COVID-19 on cities. In this study we seek to provide an overview of COVID-19 research related to cities by reviewing literature published during the first eight months after the first confirmed cases were reported in Wuhan, China. The main aims are to understand impacts of the pandemic on cities and to highlight major lessons that can be learned for post-COVID urban planning and design. Results show that, in terms of thematic focus, early research on the impacts of COVID-19 on cities is mainly related to four major themes, namely, (1) environmental quality, (2) socio-economic impacts, (3) management and governance, and (4) transportation and urban design. While this indicates a diverse research agenda, the first theme that covers issues related to air quality, meteorological parameters, and water quality is dominant, and the others are still relatively underexplored. Improvements in air and water quality in cities during lockdown periods highlight the significant environmental impacts of anthropogenic activities and provide a wake-up call to adopt environmentally friendly development pathways. The paper also provides other recommendations related to the socio-economic factors, urban management and governance, and transportation and urban design that can be used for post-COVID urban planning and design. Overall, existing knowledge shows that the COVID-19 crisis entails an excellent opportunity for planners and policy makers to take transformative actions towards creating cities that are more just, resilient, and sustainable.

Keywords: Air quality; COVID-19; Environmental factors; Pandemics; Smart cities; Urban planning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • COVID-19*
  • China / epidemiology
  • Cities
  • City Planning
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2