Urban density is erroneously regarded as the main factor in the spread of COVID-19 in cities. A review of extant literature and findings from our case study of Karachi, Pakistan indicate that inequalities in income, healthcare, and living conditions play a key role in the spread of contagions along with government responsiveness to the pandemic. Moving forward, urban policies need to address these inequalities through changes in housing policies and decentralized governance systems. Cities must adapt to sustainable modes of travel, reduce digital inequalities, and encourage people friendly urban planning to become resilient in the face of pandemics.
COVID-19 has changed how urban residents relate to their cities. Urban centers have become epicenters of disease, which has raised questions about the long-term sustainability of high-density settlements and public transport usage. However, the spread of COVID-19 in cities is incorrectly attributed to urban density.
Using the case study of Karachi, Pakistan, we find that inequality of income, healthcare, and living conditions is a major contributing factor to the spread of COVID-19. Data on positive COVID-19 cases, density, and socioeconomic status were obtained at the Union Council level from administrative districts of Karachi, Pakistan between March 2020, and July 2020. Despite low population densities, low-to-middle income neighborhoods in Karachi had a higher proportion of positive cases. Further, the experience of dense cities such as Hanoi in Vietnam and New York in the US differs regarding the spread of COVID-19. Hence, the government's response to the pandemic is also a major factor in containing the outbreak.
Our findings suggest that a crisis in a city is exacerbated by its inability to take advantage of its density, inequality in the distribution of resources, lack of inclusiveness, and centralized governance mechanisms that make it difficult to respond quickly to situations. Thus, urban planning scholarship and practice should take an interdisciplinary approach to make cities equitable, inclusive, and adaptive.