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Do We Know Any More About the Future of Cities Than We Did in April 2020?

The conversation about how the pandemic might alter the direction of planning and urbanism, unlike the spread of the coronavirus, has remained steady since March.
James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell | October 12, 2020, 6am PDT
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Coronavirus Protest
Trump supporters gather in Coral Springs, Florida on October 4, 2020.
YES Market Media

[Updated October 14, 2020] The coronavirus has been running rampant now for long enough for speculation to benefit from information, as the final group of articles listed in the below compendium attests. The disruption of the first days of the pandemic have given away to patterns, and these patterns are now lingering, rather than emerging. Unemployment is still at record lows. An eviction crisis looms, with the day of reckoning a constant source of anxiety and political negotiation; transit ridership cratered at the beginning of the pandemic, making a small, incremental recovery since then; and vehicle miles traveled by automobile are still well below pre-pandemic levels. Americans have been generally staying home for months, now with an extra layer of environmental threat represented by wildfire and hurricane season, and are increasingly turning to parks and active transportation for escape from the doldrums of the pandemic lifestyle.

Individuals who have flouted the public health guidance of experts and scientists have paid a price (yes, I'm talking about the Trump administration, among others), and parts of the country that thought that they were immune are now seeing the highest rates of infection per capita (a fact that has worsened as the most recent weeks have passed). Increasing infections didn't stop a resident from attempting to make a citizen arrest of the entire Board of Supervisors in Shasta County, California. The FBI uncovered a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. The country has been living with this heavy blanket of anxiety and anger for months now, but every day seems to reveal some novel form of risk and conflict, even as patterns of mobility and the real estate market have settled.

Meanwhile, infection rates for the entire country are creeping up again. Infection rates in my home county of Los Angeles are creeping up again. Infection rates in the Northeast, where Americans lived through the worst of the pandemic six months ago, are creeping up again. Way too many people are sick, and everyone is tired.

Planetizen has been documenting the ongoing debate about the future of urbanism, planning, transportation, etc., throughout the pandemic, so far sharing four previous compendiums of articles on the subject, with many more examples mixed in over the course of the year.

I didn't do any official count to compare, but my impression is that now many in the field of planning and its allied professions have begun to make sense of the realities of the pandemic, and are ready to have an informed discussion about the world that will be created when the pandemic is finally defeated. That doesn't mean that the wild speculation about the potential demise of cities has ended. I'm sure we'll be having that conversation for long after the coronavirus meets its match.

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