Most Questions About the Long-Term Impact of the Pandemic Still Unanswered

Planetizen started gathering articles attempting to predict the post-pandemic future in March 2020. The work goes on, with many questions left still to be answered.

6 minute read

May 25, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Domino Park

Domino Park on a sunny March day in Brooklyn. | 5D Media / Shutterstock

The number of articles, opinions, and analyses published in the past 14-plus months on the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for the future of cities and communities has required a different approach from Planetizen's normal daily posts. As I mentioned in the April 2021 edition of this series, uncertainty is at the root of this outpouring of interest and prognostication. Most of us alive today have never faced the kind of uncertainty we have endured for the past year.

I wish I could say that on the precipice of a second pandemic summer, with the number of vaccinated in the country slowly inching toward a majority, that we know more about how the pandemic will alter the way we live, work, and recreate, but it's clear from this month's compendium of articles on the subject that some of the biggest questions of the pandemic are still unanswered.

Questions like: What will happen to the millions of renters and property owners who struggled to pay the bills while economy shut down for much of the year? Will enough transit riders return to buses and trains to stabilize transit system budgets? Will an "urban exodus" create millions of new car owners and miles and miles of outward development pressure? Will space created for walking and dining be ceded to the cars that previously occupied those spaces? How many people will return to work in central business districts? Can the field of planning analyze and respond the current crises in regenerative ways that also help prevent future crises (like climate change)?

After an initial wave of daring (perhaps foolhardy) certainty from some pundits working in the urbanism sphere, it seemed like the appetite for speculation declined for much of the shockingly long duration of the pandemic. Back at the beginning, there was always a side of wishful thinking and projection served with the prognostication entrée, but maybe there's a more positive way to think about it now. The continued uncertainty of the pandemic also reveals the rare scale of the opportunity to move in a different direction. While there is still a lot of disagreement about the right or likely path forward, the continued uncertainty about the consequences of the pandemic  continues to provide an opportunity to advocate and work for a healthier, more prosperous future. 

Worst case and less-than-best case scenarios are still in play, unfortunately. If the Great Recession is any guide, we will learn some lessons from the pandemic far too late. Planetizen continues to publish these compendia in the hopes that the field of planning will make some sense of all this information sooner rather than later and find a way to be a proactive and positive force in the post-pandemic future.

The Real Estate Market the Pandemic Built

Transportation Stress

Work Work

Status Check


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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