SORRY to bring doom to the gloom, but the sequence is this: public health disaster, shambolic elite failure, peak coronavirus, then the long reveal of the consequences. There’s bound to be huge unintended consequences we can’t possibly imagine but the two that seem inevitable are an explosion of complex mental health problems and an economic bomb that hasn’t hit yet.

It will be in the coming months, not immediately, that the economic hit appears as people are laid off, as furlough is rolled back or as people’s meagre savings run out.

Already the worst fears of a coronavirus housing apocalypse are coming into view.

In America, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 31% of renters living in 11.5 million apartment units in the US were late on paying rent on April 5. That figure didn’t include the tens of millions of renters who live in single-family homes and other housing situations.

That figure is mirrored here and is only going to get worse.

There is no sign of a rent freeze, only a commitment to delay evictions. That’s not the same at all, that’s just storing up trouble, the virus as a savings bank for landlords.

The Scottish Government has launched its £5 million loan fund for landlords. But it contains no agreement to protect the tenants’ interests post Covid, leaving landlords free to evict for arrears and jack up rent for new tenants in order to finance loan repayment. The option for tenants is to claim benefits. This is both unjust and inadequate and is storing up a fresh crisis when the pandemic ends. It’s testament to the narrow and short-sighted political world and, as some have pointed out, the fact that the political class is a propertied class.

Even the immediate benefits of the crisis are slain. With the collapse of the Airbnb market in

Edinburgh, an open goal for resetting the housing market was suddenly available. What happened? Instead, we’re told that support worth more than £13m could be given to short-term lets (STLs) in the capital.

The Green councillor for Edinburgh city centre Claire Miller says: “It was with some dismay that I learned that the Scottish Government decided STLs would have access to the small business grant fund. Now more than ever it should be clear that the government shouldn’t be putting money aside so property owners can keep potential homes empty. However, it does present us with an opportunity. I know our council would like to do more to tackle STLs. If the government can work with councils and with Andy Wightman’s team in parliament we can use the information learned from grant applications to find those STLs that do not have planning permission and to return them to the long-term housing market where they belong. Let’s come out of this crisis not with a business-as-usual city centre seeing more and more residents unable to find a home there but instead with a rejuvenated city centre which looks once again to being a thriving, unique city-centre community.”

This pattern is everywhere to be seen. As Adrienne Buller from Common Wealth writes: “In the case of the world’s major economies, the priorities shown by governments in response to this crisis are those of finance, big business, ‘rentiers’ and fellow affluent, global north nations. As several economists have warned, without stringent conditions and major structural changes to the economy, government stimulus, bailouts and an unprecedented influx of money from central banks will simply end up in the vortex of a financial system ‘unfit for purpose’ and lining the pockets of the wealthy, as happened after the 2008 crisis.”

But opportunities persist. A report by Dr Douglas Finch and Professor Paul Palmer from the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh shows dramatic reductions in the emissions of nitrogen dioxide due to the reduction of traffic in the lockdown.

As they conclude: “By adopting cleaner travel options, such as more electrically powered transport and more cycling and walking infrastructure, then we would see lower levels of nitrogen dioxide. Strategies to lower VOCs (volatile organic compounds) emissions would also reduce ozone levels and therefore improve respiratory health across the country.”

But where is the plan to do this? Where is the urgency to seize on this opportunity?

When this current crisis recedes, we are left with that other crisis, the climate breakdown that we were so studiously ignoring in the pre-Covid world.

But what if some of the solutions from moving beyond the current crisis lay at a city scale? We are so obsessed with the constitutional question we have ignored the municipal one. But some smart thinking is going on in pockets across Europe.

In Amsterdam, the long-standing work of the ecological economist Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics, is being implemented.

She has been working with the biomimicry thinker Janine Benyus to launch the Doughnut City project which asks the question: “How can our city be a home to thriving people in a thriving place, while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet?”

Raworth writes: “Janine put it in her characteristically poetic way, ‘when a bird builds a nest in a tree, it takes care not to destroy the surrounding forest in the process’. How can humanity also learn to create settlements big and small that promote the wellbeing of their inhabitants, while respecting the wider living communities in which they are embedded?”

The project has its critics – it’s too technocratic and treats power and inbuilt inequalities as subjects that can be solved with a flipchart in a workshop – but it does have a solid basis and it is an example of deep holistic thinking.

Over in Paris, the mayor Anne Hidalgo has made phasing out vehicles and creating a “15-minute city” a key pillar of her offering at the launch of her re-election campaign. We are mapping similar for Edinburgh and Glasgow in the citizens’ project.

What would that look like? In a world where we work less and travel less and pollute less, it would mean that we have most of our basic needs for work, education, leisure, sport and entertainment localised.

The inspiration behind the 15-minute city idea is Professor Carlos Moreno, of the Sorbonne, who believes the “core of human activity” in cities must move away from oil-era priorities of roads and car ownership. To do this he argues: “We need to reinvent the idea of urban proximity. We know it is better for people to work near to where they live, and if they can go shopping nearby and have the leisure and services they need around them too, it allows them to have a more tranquil existence.”

The ideas have been embraced by Hidalgo, who wants to encourage more self-sufficient communities within each arrondissement of the French capital, with grocery shops, parks, cafes, sports facilities, health centres, schools and even workplaces just a walk or bike ride away.

Called the “ville du quart d’heure” – the quarter-hour city – the aim is to offer the people of Paris what they need on or near their doorstep to ensure an “ecological transformation” of the capital into a collection of neighbourhoods. This, Hidalgo argues, would reduce pollution and stress, creating socially and economically mixed districts to improve overall quality of life for residents and visitors.

What would that look like in our cities? It would mean some massive redesign and reinvention, the end to “out of town shopping malls” designed exclusively with huge car parks. It would mean a vast investment in bikes and bike infrastructure, cargo bikes and e-bikes. It would mean localised food systems and co-working spaces that nurtured the sort of industries and businesses required for the new world. It would mean neighbourhood theatres and cinemas and music venues and bookshops.

How do we define these neighbourhoods? It could be a messy and creative process underlined by looking at what areas need and existing assets are. It could draw on school catchment and parish boundaries and local and historical cultures and identities.

In Edinburgh, it might mean neighbourhoods like Wester Hailes, Restalrig, Slateford, Muirhouse, Granton or Oxgangs emerging. These neighbourhoods wouldn’t be isolated – they’d be interconnected, just as the city would be connected to the peri-urban and the rural around it. It could reframe the city as a place where diversity and local democracy were resurgent, and a place where sustainable mental health and our zero-carbon futures were possible.

No doubt much of this will be derided. But the case for a return to the system failure we were enduring before the pandemic looks even more ridiculous than the utopian thinking we need to get us out of here.