Urban attributes and the spread of COVID-19: The effects of density, compliance and socio-political factors in Israel

Nir Barak, Udi Sommer, Nir Mualam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Current debates identifying urban population density as a major catalyst for the spread of COVID-19, and the praise for de-densification and urban sprawl that they entail, may have dire environmental consequences. Juxtaposing competing theories about the urban antecedents of COVID-19, our key argument is that urban political attributes overshadow the effects of cities' spatial characteristics. This is true even when considering levels of compliance with movement restrictions and controlling for demographic and socio-economic conditions. Taking advantage of Israel as a living lab for studying COVID-19, we examine 271 localities during the first 3 months of the outbreak in Israel, a country where over 90% of the population is urban. Rather than density, we find social makeup and politics to have a critical effect. Cities with some types of political minority groups, but not others, exhibit higher infection rates. Compliance has a significant effect and density's influence on the spread of the disease is contingent on urban political attributes. We conclude with assessing how the relationship between the politics of cities and the spread of contagious diseases sheds new light on tensions between neo-Malthusian sentiments and concerns about urban sprawl and environmental degradation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number148626
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Cities
  • Minorities
  • Population density
  • Urban planning
  • Urban sustainability
  • pandemic politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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