Skip to content


COVID-19: Cities, Culture and the 3 ‘P’s: powers, partnerships, place

Cities are using their unique capabilities to lead recovery and renewal

​A striking feature of the response to COVID-19 is the speed, scale and imagination of responses from all parts of society. Spontaneous mutual aid groups have sprung up amongst citizens. Businesses have pivoted to address the pandemic. Not-for-profits have taken on new responsibilities. But perhaps most notable is how all levels of government – cities, regions and national – have stepped up to do things that would have seemed impossible pre-pandemic.

As we have observed through The World Cities Culture Forum, city governments are using all the tools at their disposal to tackle the impact of the pandemic on culture in their city. This has gone well beyond exercising formal legal duties into a broader and more subtle way of getting things done. They have drawn on the 3 P’s: powers; partnerships; and place. It is an approach that will point the way to better ways to support culture and creativity in World Cities beyond the pandemic.

Cities have quickly mobilised their formal powers – grants and loans, planning, regulations - to help struggling cultural and creative sectors. For example, Lisbon, along with many other cities, suspended rent payments for cultural organisations in city premises. San Francisco was far from alone in introducing new emergency grant schemes. Cities such as Seoul have modulated licensing regimes to successively restrict the spread of the virus and then allow cultural activities to reopen safely.

Cities are uniquely placed to help build partnerships that draw in and support cultural and creative organisations. They are central focus within their city, but also connected upwards and outwards to central government and other cities nationally and overseas. Cities like Barcelona have brought together their cultural networks to navigate the best way through the crisis. Amsterdam has commissioned an economic impact assessment of COVID-19 on the cultural sector. Italian Deputy Mayors for Culture moved immediately (and with great success) to lobby central government on behalf of their cultural sectors.

And cities bring a unique perspective as custodians of place. They understand what makes their city work in the round. They know how specific cultural and creative organisations shape the sense of what their city is about, that would be lost on decision makers in national government. So, during lockdown, cities like Bogota have mobilised their cultural sector to provide citizens with self-care, storytelling and reflection. And cities like Milan have drawn up holistic plans for how their city can begin function with an ongoing level of measures to contain the virus. Cities understand how introducing bike lanes, reopening factories and getting the night-time economy moving all fit together. And culture remains at the centre of this new version of the city.

Image credit: World Cities Culture Summit Seoul. Courtesy of City of Seoul