One of the defining sounds of lockdown has to be the unsettling quiet of an empty street where nothing stirs save the occasional pigeon and rustling leaves. As lockdowns continue to put life on hold in cities across the world, this momentary pause offers something more than a stifling feeling of anxiety. It provides a chance to reassess what city life should be about, prompting the question of how cities can serve people, not the other way around. The answer could define our fate as a species, and the health of our planet.

Cities are home to half the world’s population – a figure likely to increase to over two-thirds by 2030, according to the United Nations. These energy-hungry centres are responsible for around 70% of global energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions. Cities are also hugely vulnerable to the rising sea levels and extreme weather caused by the climate crisis. That is why, from this November, as global leaders at COP26 set a direction of travel to limit global heating to 1.5 °C (or not), city life will play a key role in deciding what tomorrow will look like.

In this issue of Resurgence & Ecologist we invite you to come on a journey through our living cities, from their historical roots to the energy that feeds them, and finally to buds of change. To navigate this path, we have introduced two new sections: Connected Life, which reflects the first law of ecology; and Positive Action, where we showcase inspiring ideas and actions for change. On the way, Brendan Montague shows how the ‘Great Stink’ in Victorian London holds lessons for the future, and Saumya Roy speaks to residents of Mumbai’s landfill mountains. Mothiur Rahman explores how the diversity of city life is helping to forge a path away from our addiction to growth, and as part of a campaign for better public transport Ellie Harrison brings Bus Regulation: the Musical to the stage. We also make room for our imaginations as Jini Reddy finds magic in the streets of London, and ‘weeds’ are given new meaning through the work of street artist Mona Caron.

Through these stories and more we invite you to join us in a vision of hope – defined by the skyline of a living city.

Marianne Brown is the Editor of Resurgence & Ecologist.