By Professor Wei-Ning Xiang, Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA and founding Editor-in-Chief of Socio-Ecological Practice Research.
To be inclusive is the first of four qualities cities worldwide should aim to achieve by 2030, as enunciated by the United Nations in Sustainable Development Goal 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” (The United Nations 2015, p.24). To be an inclusive city as such is regarded as a sine qua non for a city to achieve other three qualities identified (The United Nations 2015, p.24; and 2020, p.29).
Inclusive cities are cities that take substantial and practical measures toward the equality-for-all ideal. They, inter alia,
(1) Respect, value, and accommodate equally the rights, contributions, and needs of all residents—human and other sentient beings (Apfelbeck et al. 2020; Douglas 2017, p.3; The United Nations 2015, p.24);
(2) Insure that all human residents have equal access to secure and dignified livelihoods, affordable housing, and basic services such as water/sanitation, electricity supply, education, health care, transportation, information and communication technologies (Douglas 2017, p.3; The United Nations 2015, p.24);
(3) Insure that all human residents have representative voices in cities’ governance, planning, management, and budgeting processes (Ibid.).
To inclusive cities and their underlying equality-for-all ideal, two “inclusive realities”—facts of inclusiveness—that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic add support, supplementing Thomas Jefferson’s famous aphorism “all men are created equal”.
First, the COVID-19 pandemic is both a common threat and super wicked problem.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has ever shown anything about itself that is beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is that the pandemic has a dual identity inherited from “the mother of all pandemics”—the 1918 influenza pandemic (Morens & Taubenberger 2018). That is, it is a vicious common threat to which no human being on the earth is immune, and a super wicked problem to which a solution of any kind creates new and often worse problems.
Exhibiting this infamous identity to its fullest extent, the COVID-19 pandemic has been doing exactly what its ancestor did notoriously over a century ago. Since early 2020, it has dealt a punishing, devastating blow indiscriminately to human life in every corner of the world; and triggered globally a tsunami of mutually exacerbating catastrophes. Once again, it has turned the global village upside down into a distrusting, fearful swamp where “a [public] health crisis became an economic crisis, a food crisis, a housing crisis, a political crisis. Everything collided with everything else.” (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 2020, p.4)
Second, suffering is a shared human experience.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has ever proven anything about ourselves that is also beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is that in the presence of such a common threat and super wicked problem, suffering is a shared human experience from which no one is exempt. This time, like in 1918, all of us are involuntarily on the virus’ blacklist; and to a varying extent, we are all victims of, inter alia, the related sickness, loss of loved ones, loneliness, depression, economic hardships, domestic violence, deepened poverty, social unrest, and political turmoil. There is no real difference between oneself and all others in terms of suffering and need for compassion, so much so that one’s “own liberation [from suffering] is not distinct from the liberation of all beings.” (Silk 2017, p.2)
Together these two inclusive realities emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic present a compelling case for human interconnectedness or “we-ness” (Jimenez 2009, p.212) that further corroborates the very ideal of inclusive cities—equality for all.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2020) COVID-19: a global perspective. 2020 Goalkeepers Report, September 14, 2020 (accessed September 15, 2020)
Jimenez S (2009) Compassion. In: Lopez SJ (Ed.) (2009) Encyclopedia of positive psychology, 209-215. Wiley-Blackwell, Malden
Morens DM, Taubenberger JK (2018) The mother of all pandemics is 100 years old (and going strong). American Journal of Public Health, 108(11): 1449-1454
Silk JA (2017) Mahayana. Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. (accessed July 01, 2020)
The United Nations (2015) Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development (Accessed August 1, 2020)
The United Nations (2020) Policy brief: COVID-19 in an urban world. Officially released on July 7, 2020 (Accessed August 1, 2020)