Nine Months Later: How the Pandemic Is Changing Communities

Planetizen shares the latest in a series of compendia tackling the effects of the pandemic, now and in the future, for cities and communities.

Read Time: 6 minutes

December 8, 2020, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Wirestock Images / Shutterstock

Just because many of the worst-case scenarios imagined at the beginning of the pandemic haven't happened yet, doesn't mean they never will. In fact, there's plenty of evidence that despite the many threats that still lurk unrealized, many facts of the coronavirus are worse than imagined. Nine months after the first lockdowns were implemented in California, infections and hospitalizations are higher than ever, for example. There is no mistaking that the public health crisis has reached a new pitch, as hospitals burst beyond capacity, infection rates skyrocket, and someone dies of coronavirus every minute in the United States.

The fact that the fall has surpassed the warnings about what would happen when people started to let their guard down is a startling reminder of how ill-equipped we are to handle crises despite having so much evidence and experience of their inevitability.

Ready to pile on to the disaster, the invoice is coming due for many of the crises that have so far managed to fall short of constant dire warnings and doomsday predictions. Transit agencies are on the brink of disaster—which would be a disaster for the economy and the environment, at least, as well as for society as a whole. Unemployed renters are piling up debt in numbers previously possible only by owing money to health insurance providers and institutions of higher education. People are buying cars and moving to auto-dependent locations in a massive wave, locking in carbon emissions for the next generation. We'll be quantifying the effects of the pandemic for years and decades to come—and there will be no vaccine for these catastrophes.

Planetizen has been tracking the stories that have attempted to make sense of the world during the pandemic, and how the pandemic might alter the future direction of communities. Many of the themes have repeated, with only slight variations as the coronavirus has revealed its effects for public health, the economy, and society.

Later this month, we'll provide a more detailed survey of the themes and trends that have emerged as most relevant and influential to planning and allied professions of urban design and environmental protection. In the meantime, here is the latest collection of stories, mostly written since the U.S. election on November 3, on the great unanswered question of the year: What does the pandemic mean for the future of cities and communities?

Status Check

Urban Exodus or Urban Revival

The Future of Transportation

The Future of Planning

James Brasuell

James Brasuell is a writer and editor, producing web, print, and video content on the subjects of planning, urbanism, and mobility. James has managed all editorial content and direction for Planetizen since 2014 and was promoted to editorial director in 2021.

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Aerial view of dense single-family homes in neighborhood still under construction

How Virginia Counties Use Zoning to Stifle Development

Some state legislators are proposing action at the state level as counties block development using zoning and development requirements even as housing prices rise sharply in the region.

January 23, 2023 - The Virginia Mercury

New York City Coronavirus

The Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to Remake Downtown

Urban cores around the country were transforming into live, work, and play destinations before the pandemic. The pandemic was a setback for this transformation, but it could also be a rare opportunity. It’s up to city leadership to seize it.

January 23, 2023 - The Washington Post

Rendering of red seven-story student housing building with students walking in open grassy plaza in front of building

L.A. Times Editorial Board Calls for CEQA Reform

The Board argues that the environmental law, while important, has too often been ‘weaponized’ by NIMBY groups to delay or halt housing development.

January 31 - Los Angeles Times

Seattle buses in line at a depot with Seattle skyline in background

Seattle Brings Free Transit to Public Housing

Linking transit programs to housing can lower administrative costs and streamline the process for riders.

January 31 - Route Fifty

Broad street in downtown Columbus, Ohio with two pedestrians in crosswalk

Columbus Could Lower Downtown Speed Limits

The city council will vote on a proposal to lower speed limits to 25 miles per hour to improve safety and make downtown more walkable and welcoming to pedestrians.

January 31 - The Columbus Dispatch