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.

6 minute read

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, AICP is the former editorial director of Planetizen and is now a senior public affairs specialist at the Southern California Association of Governments. James managed all editorial content and direction for Planetizen from 2014 to 2023, and was promoted from manging editor to editorial director in 2021. After a first career as a class five white water river guide in Trinity County in Northern California, James started his career in Los Angeles as a volunteer at a risk reduction center in Skid Row.

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