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  • Author or Editor: Rianne van Melik x
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Our experiences of the city are dependent on our gender, race, class, age, ability, and sexual orientation. It was already clear before the pandemic that cities around the world were divided and becoming increasingly unequal. The pandemic has torn back the curtain on many of these pre-existing inequalities.

Contributions to this volume engage directly with different urban communities around the world. They give voice to those who experience poverty, discrimination and marginalisation in order to put them in the front and center of planning, policy, and political debates that make and shape cities.

Offering crucial insights for reforming cities to be more resilient to future crises, this is an invaluable resource for scholars and policy makers alike.

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The COVID-19 pandemic was not a great ‘equaliser’, but rather an event whose impact intersected with pre-existing inequalities affecting different people, places, and geographic scales. Nowhere is this more apparent than in housing.

Written by an international group of experts, this book casts light on how the virus has impacted the experience of home and housing through the lens of wider urban processes around transportation, land use, planning policy, racism, and inequality. Case studies from around the world examine issues around gentrification, housing processes, design, systems, finance and policy.

Offering crucial insights for reforming cities to be more resilient to future crises, this is an invaluable resource for scholars and policy makers alike.

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Cities play a major role in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic as many measures are adopted at the scale of cities and involve adjustments to the way urban areas operate.

Drawing from case studies across the globe, this book explores how the pandemic and the policies it has prompted have caused changes in the ways cities function. The contributors examine the advancing social inequality brought on by the pandemic and suggest policies intended to contain contagion whilst managing the economy in these circumstances.

Offering crucial insights for reforming cities to be more resilient to future crises, this is an invaluable resource for scholars and policy makers alike.

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COVID-19 is an invisible threat that has hugely impacted cities and their inhabitants. Yet its impact is very visible, perhaps most so in urban public spaces and spaces of mobility.

This international volume explores the transformations of public space and public transport in response to COVID-19 across the world, both those resulting from official governmental regulations and from everyday practices of urban citizens. The contributors discuss how the virus made urban inequalities sharper and clearer, and redefined public spaces in the ‘new normal’.

Offering crucial insights for reforming cities to be more resilient to future crises, this is an invaluable resource for scholars and policy makers alike.

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Libraries are important public spaces through which the social life of the city can be read, like ‘diagnostic windows in society’ (Mehta, 2010: 16) or ‘a barometer of place’ (Robinson, 2014: 13), which can tell bigger stories about the state of cities and nations. This chapter investigates the transformation of public libraries in the United Kingdom (UK) and the Netherlands (NL) during the COVID-19 crisis. In both countries, public libraries were already in some state of crisis when the pandemic hit. Financial pressures, decreasing membership, and digitalization required libraries to reinvent themselves. In the Netherlands, libraries increasingly serve as spaces of encounter facilitating social networks and care (van Melik, 2020). However, being temporarily closed and reopened under strict regulations causes a major setback in the library’s functioning as a ‘social infrastructure’ (Klinenberg, 2018). In the UK, the devastating public impact of COVID-19 takes place on top of an already-existing state of emergency: that of a national public infrastructure crippled by ten years of austerity and hollowing out of library services (Corble, 2019).

This chapter starts with an overview of the national pictures of British and Dutch public libraries before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, after which we discuss two important changes in: 1) the library’s functioning and 2) the nature of librarianship. It is based on interviews with seven anonymized staff members (three in NL, four in UK) and UK public library worker and campaigner Alan Wylie, who sits on the national ‘Cultural Renewal Taskforce’ for steering library services through the COVID-19 crisis.

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This series of four books explores the relationship between the COVID- 19 pandemic and a variety of inter- related economic, social, spatial, and racial inequalities that have come to characterize cities around the world in the twenty- first century. Each volume explores a different, yet connected topic within urban studies, geography, and planning. This volume examines divisions within urban communities and societies and discusses to what extent the pandemic has created new inequalities, or amplified existing ones?

During the first wave of lockdowns that quickly spread around the world, images of empty streets, stations, squares, highways, and markets presented a dramatic view of cities that constituted an immediate break from the pre- COVID- 19 era. Often juxtaposed beside images of the same spaces in far busier times, these photographs were almost entirely devoid of people who were otherwise hunkered down in their houses. They gave the impression that everything had changed and that life as we knew it had come to a standstill. They also gave hope of a return to normality, as once- busy places waited patiently for life to return back to the way it was (see The Guardian, 2020).

These images were, however, an overly simplistic, onedimensional representation of cities under lockdown. The reality, in most areas of urban life, was far more complex. Rather than everything changing, the first year of the COVID- 19 pandemic has also demonstrated that much has remained the same: the inequalities that characterized cities before the pandemic have been central to understanding both the unequal impacts of the virus on urban communities and the different ways in which the city has been experienced during the pandemic.

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The virus which causes COVID-19 is an invisible threat that has hugely impacted cities and their inhabitants in numerous ways, as also outlined in other volumes in this series. Volume 1 focused on how pre-existing inequalities within society have augmented and exacerbated when they have intersected with the pandemic; Volume 2 expanded on this theme with a specific focus on housing. Yet, though the virus itself might be imperceptible, its impact is sometimes very visible, perhaps most so in urban public spaces and spaces of mobility, which are the central themes of this third volume. Since March 2020, cities all over the world have restricted the access to, and use of, public spaces, in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 (Honey-Rosés et al, 2020). In countries with very strict lockdowns, this resulted in empty streets and marketplaces, and spatial and temporal restrictions limiting the frequency, duration, and reach of outdoor visits.

Although such restrictions generally applied to everyone, they have nevertheless rendered socio-economic inequalities along spatial lines sharper and clearer. Indeed, as Moore (2020) puts it, ‘the division between the private and public space is being played out in this bizarre inability to acknowledge that many do not have private outside space: that they rely on a communal “outdoors” that is now to be avoided and policed’. As such, the COVID-19 crisis added a third process producing the often proclaimed ‘end’ or ‘death’ of public space, as emphasized by Van Eck et al (2020: 375): ‘In addition to the privatisation and commercialisation of public spaces, health-related regulations by local governments impact the nature of public spaces as important meeting places.’ Consequently, 2020 has been proclaimed as the ‘year without public space’.1

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Over the past decades, the academic debate on public space has been somewhat Janus-faced, with researchers generally expressing one of two considerations (van Melik, 2017). One set of authors has depicted public space as a socially open and accessible space where meeting and interaction occur, tolerance for diversity is enhanced, democratic values prevail, and art, theater, and performance take place (for example, Lofland, 1989; Watson, 2006; Valentine, 2008). Concurrent with this romanticized ideal, other authors express a sense of loss or nostalgia about public space being eroded and hence being under threat (for example, Mitchell, 1995; 2003; Kohn, 2004). In his critique of American urbanism, Michael Sorkin (1992) even went so far as to herald the ‘end of public space’. Authors in this second camp have painted a rather pessimistic picture of modern urban life; one that is characterized by neoliberal urban planning, consumerism, restrictive security measures, and social exclusion.

In a similar vein, chapters in this book by a mix of scholars (in law, criminology, geography, sociology, planning, architecture, and so on) have depicted both bleak and promising developments concerning public space and mobility in times of a global pandemic. With increased use of parks and pedestrian-oriented developments such as cycling and walking (see for example Chapters Sixteen and Eighteen), public spaces appear to be rediscovered by both policy makers and users alike. Public spaces are high on the urban planning and policy agendas, as Whitten and Massini (Chapter Nine) demonstrate when discussing London’s policies for greening the city.

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