COVID-19 has a Postcode:

How spatial inequality shapes the pandemic’s impact and the need for place-based responses


By Jeni Klugman (Managing Director of Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security), Matthew Moore (Consultant, World Bank), Michael Higgins (Pathfinders Program Lead on Grand Challenge on Inequality and Exclusion, NYU Center on International Cooperation), and Paula Sevilla (Pathfinders Program Associate at the NYU Center on International Cooperation)

Kolkata, India (Source:

Most of the world’s population — about four billion people — lives in cities. So often the engines of creativity, industry and economic growth, the density and intensity of economic and social life in cities has suddenly become a hallmark of their vulnerability in the face of a highly contagious pandemic.

Yet the vulnerability that marks cities is not experienced by citizens on an equal basis. The pandemic has exposed the glaring inequality that characterizes so many cities around the world. Whether in developed or developing countries, place-based disparities mean the poorest and most marginalized bear the brunt of the pandemic and face crowded housing, lack of medical care, and shortage of access to water. Addressing these policy failures will require new information and tools.

The hardest hit

In Barcelona, Besòs and Llobregat, historically among the city’s poorest neighborhoods, have been hardest hit by COVID-19. Accumulating evidence suggests that economically disadvantaged areas in New York City have also been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. Data also shows that African-Americans and Latinos are twice as likely to die of the virus, a reflection of structural discrimination and spatial exclusion. In Rio de Janeiro, the first death due to COVID-19 was Cleonice Gonçalves, a 63 year-old domestic worker who worked in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods. She reportedly contracted the disease from her employer who had recently returned from a trip to Italy. Accustomed to cosseting themselves within gated communities to avoid ‘contamination’, it seems a vector of this disease has been the air travel associated with the lifestyles of the rich.

Lock-downs and social distancing have been implemented to halt the spread of…