Cities are accommodating to the new reality now that the effects of COVID are wearing off. Now more than ever, green initiatives are a priority as is recycling innovation. The health crisis has made access to essential services such as medical care and clean water more important. Additionally, critical assets have been added during the crisis focusing on local governments, digital infrastructure, adequate housing, green and open spaces.
The World Economic Forum suggests that the first action may be to fix the digital divide. In the last 7 years, the pace of digitalization has accelerated, offering improvements in the economy and society with new educational and job skills. Unfortunately, not all countries have adequate digital inclusion policies, as they can increase inequalities. Some people benefit from globalization and others are worse off. Differences vary from city to city but it is a common factor.
Spirited cities to bridge digital divides
There are cities with positive figures, such as Barcelona, where 92% of households have Internet access. Only 1% of the city’s population does not have access because they are low-income families. Socio-economic inequalities are evident in the type of devices that people have to access the Internet. Age group also defines access to the web, with the least educated and unemployed older people using the Internet the least. In contrast, young people and students have the most access.
During the pandemic, inequalities were more evident. Nearly 56% of low-income workers were able to telecommute and 5.6% of students failed to pursue online education for socioeconomic reasons. Faced with this scenario, Barcelona launched an emergency plan for digital inclusion to provide thousands of devices, Internet connection and new digital skills for low-income families. They are still fine-tuning the initiative to address connectivity, devices and skills.
In South America, there are also cities willing to close the digital divide. In the case of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they provide free wi-fi access to underprivileged neighborhoods. Thanks to this initiative, online education has not suffered. In addition, a WhatsApp chat called BOTI was developed to share information with city residents and answer queries related to the coronavirus.
Green cities for a return to reality after the pandemic
Now that cities are making the transition back to normalcy, it is essential to continue to invest in inclusion initiatives. Two focuses that must be kept in mind are tourism and the quality of life of residents. There are cities that were hit by the pandemic, so now they must be friendly for any activity that takes place in them. City centers must go beyond being a tourist destination and become spaces where people can live and work.
There are places like London that are starting to remodel housing to adapt to the new working reality of its citizens. The combination of home and office work has prompted City Of London Corporation to create 1,500 housing units by converting office space. Green spaces are also a preferred place for more people to relax outside of work hours.
The majority of offices and businesses closed due to COVID-19 caused residents to turn to these spaces such as parks or the countryside for outdoor activities. The confinement and constant remote work makes many prefer to have access to nature in their free time. However, not all neighborhoods have green spaces that allow citizens to get away from their work and home schedules.
Fortunately, there are cities that are already taking action. For example, in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, the government has initiated a plan to plant one million trees, supporting the livelihoods of people affected by COVID-19. This is an example of investing in nature-based solutions to protect cities from climate change. Heat waves, floods and landslides are some of the threats that can be curbed if immediate action is taken on global warming.
Today, the world’s cities must focus their attention on the issues that need to be solved immediately. The digital divide, the restoration of housing, the protection and improvement of green spaces must be priority issues. The pandemic has shown how much progress still needs to be made in digital transformation and the intensification of climate action.
At Esmart Recycling, we understand these urgencies that force us all to participate. That is why as a social enterprise we seek to contribute to a future for children and low-income families by recycling and donating computers. To date, children from our community and emerging countries have benefited from our work and our commitment to society and the environment.