Pandemic Urbanism

May 14, 2020

From Cities of Congestion to Cities of Mutuality: Mutual Aid and Urban Space

By Kian Goh (, website)
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning, UCLA

The author will give this presentation at the Pandemic Urbanism Symposium in a session titled “Resilience by Any Other Name,” from 2:00 – 3:00 PM on May 29, 2020.

Concerns about cities and the coronavirus revolve around density, congestion, and economy. But burgeoning mutual aid initiatives invite another view. In the absence of effective state response, grassroots mutual aid networks have organized ways to help vulnerable people, collecting and delivering food and necessities and fundraising for cash assistance. Mutual aid is a notion of social and political participation, often by and for those most in need, to survive and challenge violent, unjust, and hierarchical systems. During the pandemic, these networks are a panacea for the disillusion of not having face-to-face methods of community building. They bring up new ways to think of solidarity and proximity, showing how physical closeness and extended networks work together to provide direct aid to a wider group of people than simply through on-the-ground ties. What would a city of mutuality look like? This presentation explores the ways in which researchers and practitioners can plan and design cities better for mutual aid. It revolves around three interrelated ideas, building on the presenter’s prior research on urban design and the politics of climate change: new types and scales of community, realigned towards more deliberate relationships among diverse residents; new spaces for people and nature, coordinated plans for novel forms of collective housing and environmental amenities; and a new social regionalism, building on regional thinking (e.g., watershed planning) to transcend the city/non-city, density/distance debate, towards new ways of arranging places of work, home, community, and ecology, and ways of communicating and moving among them.