Urban governance innovation and COVID-19

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Geographical Research


Emergencies such as COVID-19 trigger calls for innovation and invoke forced experimentation. They can shift what is thinkable and thus licence social and institutional change, opening space wherein new sociopolitical arrangements might emerge. Cities are at the heart of the COVID-19 emergency, in terms of impact, management, and solutions. This commentary considers the implications of COVID-19 for urban governance innovation. Incrementally, innovation has become a “new normal” across multiple fields of social, economic, technological, and environmental endeavour as disruptive enhancements are sought to address complex problems: urban governance is no exception. In cities, diverse new ecosystems of innovative urban governance have been emerging with the potential to reshape the politics and parameters of urban decision making, produce new institutional settings, reconstitute cities' multiscalar relations, and invoke new forms of power. This commentary considers urban governance innovation in COVID times. Drawing from Australian and international examples, we reflect on the actors taking centre stage as cities' responses to the pandemic take shape and consider the governing mechanisms being evoked. As these innovations embed more deeply the distributed nature of urban governance, we close with thoughts on the risks and opportunities that COVID-19 presents for seeking inclusive innovation in the field of urban governance.

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