Light at the End of the Tunnel Reveals the Work to Come

The latest edition of an ongoing compendia of articles trying to make sense of the deep uncertainties of the pandemic—and what it all means for the future of cities.

April 20, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


A mass vaccination site at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, pictured in March 2021. | Ron Adar / Shutterstock

On a few occasions since I started compiling these compendia of articles on the potential of the pandemic to influence the future direction of planning and development, I've allowed myself the smallest of hopes that there would soon be no reason to write about the pandemic in the present tense, and that the uncertainties of the pandemic would be replaced by a common purpose.

Uncertainty is really at the root of all the analysis, reporting, and commentary over the past year. We could only speculate, and we are still are, about the consequences of the pandemic's disruption of the daily lives of every human on the planet. Every day, week, and month, these compendia piled up:

But over the past month or so, as vaccination rates have far outpaced infection rates, knowns are replacing unknowns.

Based on my unscientific and admittedly biased observations, more writers and media outlets are speaking in certain terms. Instead of talking about what's possible, more are willing to state confidently what's happened and what's happening. The shift in tone would seem to add at least a few lumens to that light shining from the end of the tunnel—or so I have allowed myself to hope occasionally while putting together this most recent issue of the pandemic planning compendium.

But light at the end of the tunnel can't be allowed to distract from the brutal reality that the consequences of the pandemic will continue to be a crisis for many in this country and around the world. It has to be said: even with that light at the end of the tunnel shining close enough for some in the United States to see it with their eyes and feel it on their skin, the consequences of the pandemic could leave the world far worse off than it would have otherwise been. Failing to address the crises of climate change, racial inequality, the growing wealth gap, and increasing homelessness (or, you know, preparing for the inevitable next pandemic) in the post-pandemic era will ensure that the traumas and failures of the pandemic last in this world far beyond the not-so-novel coronavirus.

Some of the themes emerging from this month's compendium should cause some concern that the media and the public are in danger of missing or forgetting some of the lessons of the pandemic. When I squint, the majority of the planning- and development-related articles I found on the pandemic over the past month seem less concerned about cities and people than commerce and real estate. As with so many dynamics in the country, the difference is as significant as the difference between an individual and a community. For a while there, the pandemic forced a new kind of conversation about what it means to live in a society—even if people were jockeying for position from far different ideologies about what shape society should take in the future. According to my, again, unscientific and biased observation, the conversation that has taken place in these first few moments of optimism about the end of the pandemic seems more focused on a single, solitary bottom line.   

That's all a rambling way of saying the work of learning and recovering from the pandemic has only just begun. The uncertainties are still there, and though they might not be as novel and frightening as they once seemed, they still represent a catastrophic emergency. Millions, perhaps billions, of lives still hang in the balance. Housing, transportation, infrastructure, and education will all play a central role in the world to come, just like they always have. The question of whether we've learned anything about how to a mutual prosperity is still very much up for debate.

Post-Pandemic Planning

Housing Before, During, and After

Work, Work, Work

Disparate Impacts

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.

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