COVID-19’s Impact on Cities


COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 12, 2020.  Large cities around the world, with higher population densities, have frequently been COVID-19 hotspots.  Precisely because cities are hubs for transnational commerce and mobility, these densely populated and hyper-connected cities can amplify pandemic risk.

Over half of the world’s population – about 55% or roughly 4 billion people – live in cities (about 55%) — a level expected to increase to 68% by 2050. The World Bank estimated that the pandemic would increase the number of people in extreme poverty by 150 million by the end of 2021, reflecting disparities in impact on different subpopulations. Given the high incidence of impoverished populations in large cities, leaders and decision-makers in both the global north and south face the special challenges of supporting prevention and recovery among the urban poor.



Research examining the urban impacts of COVID-19 is organized in three subsections below: Social, economic, and spatial impacts; Environmental factors; and Planning and Governance. For an excellent overview of the relationships among these three topics, see The COVID-19 pandemic: Impacts on cities and major lessons for urban planning, design, and management.

1. Social, Economic, and Spatial Impacts

  1. Whom does COVID-19 affect the most? An Assessment of Community-Level Disparities in COVID-19 Infections and Deaths in Large US Metropolitan Areas (JAMA Network)
  2. How did COVID disrupt everyday life in the four largest American cities? The Impact of Coronavirus on Households in US Cities (Harvard School of Public Health)
  3. Exploring the relationship between urbanization and infectious diseases: Outbreaks like Coronavirus start in and spread from the edges of cities (The Conversation)
  4. How COVID affected urban businesses within the US: Which City Economies did COVID-19 Damage First? (Brookings)
  5. The impact of COVID on American migration: How people moved around in the US during the pandemic (Geospatial World)
  6. Exploring the relationship between urban density and social interaction: Why has coronavirus affected cities more than rural areas? (Economics Observatory)


2. Environmental Factors

  1. An air quality technology company examines COVID-19’s impact on air quality in 10 major cities (IQAir)
  2. How did human behavior affect air quality during the pandemic? Changes in air pollution during COVID-19 pandemic (Science of the Total Environment)
  3. Changes in COVID-era air quality were dramatic enough to be seen from space: COVID-19 and clean air: an opportunity for radical change (The Lancet)


3. Planning and Governance

  1. What long-range effect will COVID-related disruption have on higher education? Universities will never be the same after coronavirus crisis. (Nature)
  2. City visioning: rethinking the future of the city after COVID What impacts are emerging from Covid-19 for urban futures? (The Center for Evidence-Based Medicine)
  3. A guide to the three phases of battling COVID in the city: Cities are on the front lines of COVID-19 (World Bank)
  4. If urban areas are pandemic epicenters, how can we make them more resilient? COVID-19 in an Urban World (United Nations)