Haves and Have Nots: Planning and the Deep Divides of the Pandemic

The latest in a series of compendia gathering news and analysis about the effects of the COVID-19 on the built and natural environments—now and long into the future.

7 minute read

February 17, 2021, 12:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Wirestock Images / Shutterstock

So much has happened since the last time Planetizen published a pandemic compendium. There's a new president, for one. The vaccine rollout has kicked into a higher gear, but supplies still fall short of the need and are tending to inoculate affluent Americans. And as of this writing, the state of Texas is facing a fatal weather emergency that has people all over the country, including some in Texas, pointing fingers. Texas Governor Greg Abbott teamed up with Fox News to leverage the crisis facing millions of Texans to blame renewable energy and score political points against the Green New Deal (the latter is still mostly a hypothetical)—despite the distinctly and uniquely Texan nature of the state's power grid and plenty of evidence to the contrary. In a scenario that has been repeated time and time again all over the country, affluent Texans have several layers of protections from this crisis that the state's more vulnerable residents lack.

As the vaccine program has gained a foothold around the country, along with the new Biden administration, urbanism media continues to traffic a bewildering mix of speculation and incomplete data about how the coronavirus might alter the future direction of cities and communities, and how planning professionals will be, or already are, changing the focus of their work to respond to the constellation of crises that have risen as a consequence of the pandemic. There's also the large matter of the crises the pre-existing conditions of the built and natural environments that exacerbated the consequences of the pandemic. If you're looking for examples of how one crisis begets another crisis, which then begets another crisis, look no further than The New York Times article, "The Californians Are Coming. So Is Their Crisis."

Since March 2020, 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.

Although progress seems to have hung up while the U.S. Senate wrapped up a second impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, a stimulus bill making its way through Congress promises relief for two of the most pressing crises in the planner's purview, in the form of direct relief for renters and transit agencies.

One unequivocal fact has changed since the last edition of the planning and pandemic compendium: the number of deaths from COVID-19 every day in the United States has decreased significantly. At the beginning of January, the total number of daily deaths temporarily breached 4,000. The seven-day average of U.S. COVID-19 deaths was at 2,821 on February 16, 2021, according to data compiled but the New York Times. Given the weeks of lag between new infections and deaths, the number of deaths should, mercifully, continue to decline.

But perhaps the most telling theme to emerge from the past month-plus of the pandemic experience is the deep inequality in the public health and economic outcomes of the pandemic. The coronavirus spent the past several months tearing through Los Angeles, with its expensive housing market and the hidden epidemic of forced crowding in the scant options at the cheaper end of the housing market. If you're looking for examples of how one crisis begets another crisis, which then begets another crisis, look no further than the Los Angeles Times article, "When coronavirus invaded their tiny apartment, children desperately tried to protect dad."

Urban Exodus

Urban Regeneration

Housing Crisis Redux

Coronavirus and Transportation

Status Check

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. 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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