Professor Mark Boyle is the Director of the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy Practice and Place at the University of Liverpool. The Institute brings together academic expertise with policy-makers and practitioners to support the development of sustainable and inclusive cities and city regions in the process of regeneration, including Liverpool City Region.
Professor Mark Boyle is a trained human geographer, his research pivots around urban studies and urban policy. In 2017, he was ranked in the top 50 most productive scholars in Geography and Urban Studies in the world across the preceding 20 years. He is also editor in chief of the Journal Taylor and Francis Journal Space and Polity.
Thank you for the kind invitation to speak today. I hope you are all well at Suzhou, and congratulate the Urban and Environmental Studies University Research Centre and indeed all your colleagues at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University for the really great work you are doing around the COVID-19 outbreak and its aftershocks.
As you know, at the Heseltine Institute we too are actively COVID-19: Heseltine Institute Policy Briefs. COVID-19 presents one of the greatest public policy challenges Liverpool City Region has faced in a generation. We are drawing upon expertise from within the University of Liverpool and indeed across the Liverpool City Region, in collaboration with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to disseminate knowledge, best practices and translational research expertise to help mitigate the present health crisis and its social, economic and environmental aftershocks, as to help the city-region build back better. You can find these at: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/heseltine-institute/covid-19policybriefs/
Heseltine Institute COVID-19 Policy Briefing
Available from: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/heseltine-institute/co…
COVID-19 is going to change the world. No question. There has been no crisis that has affected the world’s entire 8 billion population – every economic sector, every strata of society, every country – the prime minister of Britain has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is currently in intensive care (* interview on 8th April). No one is spared. The pandemic is a significant world historical event that is going to define a new generation of public policy and urban policy.
Meanwhile, it is not wise to think about COVID-19 being a temporary blip or a temporary set back and that we can just go back to normal life after. It is something far more instructive; it requires the whole world to reflect upon the model of economic development that is powering the world economy – we really need to think about the sustainability of this model. A small virus has shown how fragile the whole interconnected global economy really is. The way we do things needs to change moving forward.
There is a lot of work to be done in terms of the immediate emergency, including dealing with the health and health care crisis, reopening society following lockdown and returning to work in the coming months. But it is also crucial that we learn longer term lessons; once we get over this initial period of crisis and emergency we will need to build more resilient economies and cities.
The United Nations Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework talks about ‘bouncing back better’ and ‘building back better’, and that ought to be the mantra of the world moving forward. We need to remediate the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftershocks, but it would be criminal if we do not also start thinking now about how to better protect ourselves in the event of a COVID-20 or COVID-21 or indeed any other major natural or human induced hazard. Threats are increasing and once in a lifetime events are now occurring three times in a decade!
Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction Global Targets
Cities like Liverpool are perhaps not as resilient as other parts of the UK, especially London. We are only part way through a regeneration and recovery programme after deindustrialization – we still suffer high levels of multiple deprivation and our population has poorer levels of health than the rest of the country. COVID-19 has ruthlessly exploited our vulnerabilities. We need to build back better for sure. But what does that mean? Who owns the term build back better?
English Indices of Deprivation 2019
The concept of ‘resilience’ is central to disaster risk reduction. But what does building resilience actually mean? Resilience is understood variously in both academic and practitioner communities. This matters: framings play a crucial role in shaping the kinds of resilience building strategies which might be imagined and enacted. I use the term ‘resilience politics’ to refer to the differential consequences of different perspectives on how to build resilience in the wake of a disaster and against the backdrop of a looming risk or hazard. When rebuilding cities in the name of strengthening resilience, civic leaders need to recognize that they are making political choices about the kind of future they are working to create.
Four ideas are in circulation: whilst not mutually exclusive each does focus attention and effort in distinctive ways.
Resilience as robustness: focusing upon the amount of shock a system can absorb and continue to function effectively and prioritising strengthening the resistance of systems to external disturbances,
Resilience as recovery: focusing upon the capacity of systems to return to a steady initial equilibrium steady state after a shock and prioritising solutions which help systems heal and repair faster
Resilience as reform: focusing upon the capacity of systems after a shock to adapt and evolve so that they are stronger than before and prioritising reform within the same politico-institutional norm.
Resilience as reconstruction: focusing upon the necessity of reconfiguring systems root and branch after a shock and prioritising politico-institutional transformation as the only enduring solution.
Each plays to a different resilience politics register. Clearly, robustness, recovery, reform and reconstruction all have strengths and weaknesses in different contexts. We need to decide which pathway we want to take.
A common misconception about natural disasters is that populations most at risk are simply those unlucky enough to have been born in parts of the world where nature’s extremes are most manifest. Increasingly, it is being recognized that, whilst exposure to natural hazards is important, ultimately it is society that puts people at increased risk and, therefore, that solutions to natural hazards need to tackle the root causes of the social production of vulnerability to hazard events.
And so the formula Risk = Hazard × Vulnerability (R = H × V) has become of central importance in Hazards Research.
The University of Liverpool is currently funding the Heseltine Institute to undertake work on economic vulnerability. We are looking at which sectors, communities, households and areas in the city are most vulnerable and at risk from the economic fall out of COVID-19. We are using the United Nations University’s (UNU) definition of vulnerability is in the research.
The UNU begins with the formula R=H ×V, but then breaks down vulnerability into three component parts: degree of susceptibility to hazards (likelihood of suffering harm), capacity to cope with hazards (capacity to mitigate the impact of hazards when they do occur), and ability to plan ahead to adapt to natural extremes (ability to minimize the degree to which exposure to hazards is increased by prior poor human decision making).
According to UNU, social, economic, cultural, and political processes determine a society’s degree of susceptibility, coping capacity, and ability to adapt.
Take Liverpool for example. As a coastal city and destination for tourism, Liverpool attracts many visitors, and retail and hospitality are very significant sectors. We expect that these will take a long time to recover from COVID-19 which makes the city therefore more vulnerable. Liverpool also has a high unemployment rate and those people who find it difficult to get into the labour market are going to be especially vulnerable now, because the competition for jobs is going to be even more severe than before.
We also concerned about the interruption of supply chains – can companies source the supplies and components they need to allow them to manufacture goods and provide services as normal. The fact that Liverpool ranks highly in multiple deprivation indices across Britain gives us particular concern. If people have low income and sparse resources (savings, wealth) a period of unemployment is going to be very distressing for them and their family.
All of this matter – being exposed to the Coronovirus is only part of the story.
Capitalism is rightly considered to be a powerful economic system that energises entrepreneurship and catalysis economic growth. Markets have taken billions of poverty. But market economies are beset with problems too. There is a recognition that capitalism is creating huge inequalities that are manifesting themselves in the form of political populism in many countries – including in our own country with the rise of the Brexit movement.
What for example has led to Trump (US), Hofer (Austria), Wilders (Netherlands), Hoffer/Kurz (Austria), Orbán (Hungary), Le Pen (France), Bolsonaro (Brazil), Syriza (Greece), Podemos (Spain)? The global economy is also causing huge damage to the environment as our climate and ecological crisis reveals.
I think the Davos World Economic Forum is recognizing that if capitalism is going to survive, it needs to up its game and more inclusive and clean growth is going to be the key to the future. WEF are starting to talk about ‘stakeholder capitalism’ as a new form of capitalism.
It’s not particularly new. The United States in the 1940s-1960s started to look at the impact of companies not just on shareholders but also on the wide variety of stakeholders they engage. There is a growing recognition that there is a need for a triple bottom line with environmental, social and economic measures defining a company’s success, not just shareholders’ returns and profits.
John Fullerton, an ex-Managing Director of JP Morgan, talks about ‘regenerative capitalism’. It’s the same kind of idea – making capitalism mimic the ecological systems active in the world rather than cutting across those systems, and trying to build a system that is in harmony with the environment and in harmony with human needs.
The idea of the ‘foundational economy’ is also doing the rounds, stripping the city back to its basic elements, and recognizing that a certain number of jobs have to be done for a city to function. These are often not the jobs that would be glamorous or particularly attractive to the higher class. They are often jobs in essential services, essential functions, and essential economic activities – for example in supermarkets, logistics, hospitals, social securities and social cares.
Currently key workers are working and risking their lives whereas the rest of the professional classes are locked down safely at home. COVID-19 is starting to show what the foundational economy looks like and why it matters and needs to be better supported. I’m hoping that after this crisis there will be a new respect for the foundational economy and for its key workers, and there will be proper remuneration and payment for these workers.
Whereas the physical aspects of health are being given priority at the moment, the longer-term health damage done by COVID-19 will be on the people’s mental health. There are mental health problems that come from people being locked down, from key workers being exposed to the virus, and also from the elderly population staying home alone. These will come home to roost at some point.
Lockdown is definitely a war on people’s mental health, heightening levels of anxiety, depression, stress levels, nervous exhaustion and so on. It may lead to more substance abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse. We are also seeing an upsurge in domestic violence, as people are being trapped in violent households, fueled by additional family stresses around dealing with added economic pressures and care burdens.
Essentially, until a cure or a vaccine is found, people will be forced to live with COVID-19 – that means going into the world knowing that there is something lurking that could kill you and health professionals and medicines will not be able to save you. Think about that. A reality for every person who leaves the house. Of course, social distancing, testing, tracing and tracking can reduce the risk but it can’t remove it altogether.
People need to socialize; this basic human need cannot be fulfilled when people are at a distance and are isolated from each other. Digital contact is helping hugely but it is no substitute for human intimacy.
COVID-19 mental health problems will be a huge health challenge for the world. I believe this will be something we must properly deal with once the society reopens again or it will haunt us downstream.
To reopen effectively and build back better, it will be necessary to tackle the present crisis in mental health and to tackle the crisis in mental health it will be necessary to improve the psychological literacy of planners, policy makers and practitioners. Psychological solutions need to work with social and political questions centrally to the fore.
Psychology is often defined as the scientific study of the human mind. Psychotherapies target undesirable psychological states by building personal resilience – including through cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, meditation, talking therapies, exercise, diet, abstinence, sleep and medication and so on. I believe each of these therapies has a crucial role to play in helping people cope with COVID-19. But cloaked in a scientific aura, institutional Psychology risks legitimating the idea that therapies must be targeted at abnormalities which exist ‘under the skull’. In fact personalised therapies can only do so much in any given politico-institutional environment.
We can edge closer to a bundle of more fundamental solutions if we construe the present crisis in mental health as socially and politically produced. In tackling the crisis in mental health then, it will be necessary to ‘fix’ economies, societies and cities as much as suffering individuals.
In City and Soul, US Jungian psychoanalyst and urbanist James Hillman famously declared: ‘to change yourself, change your city’. Only by changing the organising principles around which our cities work will it be possible to create pro-social spaces and ecologies of care which are structurally therapeutic and life affirming.
We need a tradition of place making which taps into the formidable intellectual resources which already exist in communities, find a method to bring this knowledge to the fore, respect peoples’analysis of where they are at and why, dignify their concerns and ideas, entertain the solutions they propose and champion policies which are authentically co-created, co-governed and co-implemented by planners, policy makers and practitioners and the communities they serve.
Obviously computerised data analytics have a role to play in tackling COVID-19. We can use smart technologies to map the spread of COVID-19; we can use mobile phone data to warn people if they have been contacted with people diagnosed with the disease. AI can help us model the future diffusion of the disease. Contact tracing is a powerful new tool that could make a difference.
But we need to be careful; the origins and development of smart technology within a framework of what Shoshana Zuboff calls ‘surveillance capitalism’ has given rise to technology that is not only configured primarily to serve the interests of commercial data harvesters, but which is also substantially – and manifestly – under-regulated.
Problems arise not because of smart technology, per se, but because this technology is being enabled and constrained by a very particular politico-institutional dynamic – a new mode of capital accumulation whose business model is the extraction of value from amassed linked personal data with little juridical, regulatory or ethical oversight.
Computerised data driven solutions are actually essentially benign. Everything depends upon the political constitution of data markets, and the architecture of data ownership and sharing arrangements – specifically, how these arrangements are designed, regulated and governed, and whether they command a social licence.
We need to ask, how can health planners build and govern contact tracing apps that enable citizens to exploit more fully the powerful data revolution in a way which is democratic, ethical, underpinned by a social licence, and which maintains ongoing public trust?
We need to democratize the data, to establish a regulatory framework and decide who is sharing the data, who is allowed to own the data, who is allowed to make money out of the data, and who is allowed to use data for certain aims.
In this COVID-19 window, there are probably all sorts of uses and abuses of data going on – using the emergency situation as cover. I suspect after this crisis, there are going to arise lots of questions about the democratic legitimacy of these uses. Whether or not computing power and the data revolution will help us shield ourselves better from COVID-19 will depend upon the crucial social and political choices we will make today.
Fortunately, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Liverpool City Region was actively building a high-performing data ecosystem. The Heseltine Institute was centrally involved in this. Our health check was covered three areas:
The governance, management, ethics, and regulation arrangements necessary to set the basic framework (governance and management, governing for public good: building Smart Cities with and for citizens, governing data ethically)
The technical infrastructures and challenges which are fundamental for an integrated ecosystem (building Open Data ecosystems and fostering interoperability, investing in data infrastructure: hardware and software, data security, data visualisation)
Resources, finance and economics questions which need to be asked of data-driven ecosystems (financing models and procurement, cost–benefit analysis)
In our view, the most significant innovation in Liverpool City Region’s data governance to date is the pioneering Liverpool Civic Data Cooperative (CDC). The CDC is a partnership of eight NHS Trusts, Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group, and four higher education institutions: the University of Liverpool, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool John Moores University, and Edge Hill University. It is working to develop an integrated data and digital innovation facility which supports collaboration between health tech partners and provides secure access to relevant data, while cementing trust from the public in how data is used.
Accountability in data governance is safeguarded by elected members, and thus secured for the public within a ‘diameter of trust’. Trustworthy national infrastructure is used wherever possible. Local communities work with NHS analysts, data scientists and health technology engineers to find new ways of improving healthcare and wellbeing, while citizen juries adjudicate on which datasets might be shared and which kept confidential. When it serves the public good, the CDC will also open public sector datasets to private market actors with particular computer data analytic capacities.
We hope that the CDC will be helpful in overcoming the fragmented data landscape in Liverpool and already it is helping with the COVID-19 response. Once we deal with this for health and social care, we hope then to replicate this model of data sharing in transport, climate, environmental and housing data-sets. It would be wonderful if the city could eventually build all of those data-sets into a single data set, so we could then get a much better understanding of how people use transport, where they live, what their health status is, how many visits to the doctors they’ve had and so on. It would also very much help the planning and the management of the whole city.
Of course the essential objective is to ensure tech and big data are being put to public good and that citizens are in control of defining what public good means.