More than half the world's population live in urban areas. Cities are hubs for transnational businesses and traffic movements. When infectious disease outbreaks occur, cities accelerate the spread and transmission of the disease through increased human contact. But cities also play a central role in preparing for, mitigating and adapting to pandemics. Those that are open, transparent, collaborative and adopt comprehensive responses are better equipped to manage pandemics than those that are not. This article explores why cities like Taipei and Singapore seemed better prepared to deal with the current COVID-19 outbreak and why it is important to learn from past pandemics.