History has unfolded in waves of profound depths followed by the relief of buoyant times, only for the depths to return with unsentimental speed. The French Revolution and the Reign of Terror gave way to Paris’ jolly Incroyables and Merveilleuses, young men and women who dressed ostentatiously and had a cathartic frolic — for about four years until Napoleon took power. After World War I and the pandemic Spanish Flu, the Roaring ’20s carried Berlin, London, and New York into a new age of hilarity. But then came the global Great Depression.
The hope in U.S. cities is that Covid-19 and the economic downturn will end with another delirious release — a rash of buying by exultant consumers, a new economic boom, and a return to work. They might. Certainly, the passing of the pandemic, along with social distancing, will elicit enormous relief along with parties galore. Pent up for so long, people will rush to the shops.
But alongside the displays of liberation, and for years after, American cities and towns seem likely to see untold scars of both the pandemic and the depression-like recession. On the nation’s current trajectory, one of the most probable post-Covid future scenarios in our cities is stark austerity, with empty coffers for the very services and qualities that make for an appealing urban life — well-paying jobs, robust public transportation, concerts, museums, good schools, varied restaurants, boutiques, well-swept streets, and modern office space. There will be hopping pockets of the old days with adjustments for pandemic safety, but for years, many businesses could be shuttered and even boarded up, unable to weather Covid-19 and the economic downturn. Joblessness will be high, and many of the arts may go dark.
American cities and towns seem likely to see profound scars of both the pandemic and the depression-like recession.
This presentation PROOVES WITHOUT DOUBT that America is in for a major fight that will put you and your family in the firing line, literally… So make sure you watch this presentation while it’s still online…
What kind of calendar are we looking at? The U.S. is a can-do nation, but don’t be surprised if we are still having this conversation late next year and even in 2022 and are observing a very different urban look and tone then and beyond.
For decades, economists, demographers, and urban experts have spoken of the technological marvels to come in the age of the megacity. But just as urban areas have become the dominant feature on the planet, for the first time containing more than half the world population, they are facing the potential for “substantial damage to the social and political fabric in many regions,” write Mathew Burrows and Peter Engelke in a paper for the Atlantic Council. Few thinkers as yet appear to be paying attention to this new, brewing predicament as cities contend with the aftermath of Covid-19. But at a minimum, it seems clear that glossy megacity blueprints will need serious modification.
“In the Midwest, we have been pushing density — the rehabilitation of downtowns, smaller apartments in the core, the joy of being in a city,” Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, said in an interview. “This completely arrests that development.”
Cities are ground zero for the Covid-19 crisis, where young people, professionals, older workers, and families actually live, get sick, are treated, and die—and who pay for police, ambulances, fire departments, parks, parades, judges, sewers, fireworks, jobs fairs, and often schools. Throughout history, city dwellers have usually produced the most important creations of human society, including the Mona Lisa, the light bulb, and Apollo 11. Some of the biggest practical advances have been in health and longevity. In the 1850s, the cities of New York, Paris, and London rebuilt their sewage systems in response to a century-long global cholera pandemic that killed more than 1.5 million people and ushered in a new age of urban sanitation that spread across the globe. In 1900, to rid Chicago of typhoid, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River, thus halting the daily contamination of Lake Michigan, the source of the city’s drinking water.
The 2010s started with a surge in city living, especially for millennials. They flocked to urban cores after the financial crash and injected them with vigor. But even before the coronavirus, the rush had tapped out. For the last couple of years, the top cities have been losing population, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, according to Brookings. The exodus has struck even San Francisco County, the capital of Silicon Valley. Who has been leaving, and where have they been going? A lot have been the same millennials now a little older and taking up residence on the outskirts of smaller metropolises like suburban and exurban Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver, where new jobs and affordable homes can be found.
The speed of the coronavirus’ attack on the cities has been brutal. In a recent survey of 2,463 cities and towns, half said they plan to cut public services to compensate for the loss of tens of billions of dollars in sales and income tax revenue; more than a quarter said they will lay off employees. New York suddenly has a 9% budget shortfall of about $8.1 billion. Ohio is a disaster zone all on its own, according to Brookings, with four of the country’s most cash-strapped cities.
Over the last six weeks, Congress and the Fed have allocated some $7 trillion in relief for businesses, hospitals, and workers. To call cities an afterthought would be an insult to the distracted many. The nation’s largest three dozen cities received 5% of the total voted by Congress, or $150 billion, to be doled out by the states where they are located. Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised cities and states that if they are in financial distress, they should declare bankruptcy. Senate and House Democrats say cities and states will be in the next tranche of relief, but McConnell has signaled there will be strings attached.
But the flurry of emergency money is now. When the coronavirus crisis finally ends, the U.S. is likely to remain in the midst of its other crisis — the deep recession, whose roots precede the coronavirus, and economists say it is likely to linger far longer, perhaps for years. The worry is that, after spending trillions just getting by and buried in debt, Congress will resist a multiyear future of heavy urban aid. McConnell has had to retreat from his hardline posture. But his resistance at this stage — in the midst of the pandemic — is a signpost for the tightfistedness that’s probably coming when the pandemic is over. And the degree to which the character of cities are affected, “people start leaving,” said Tony Fratto, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies. “What they expected to be there is no longer there.”
Inthe Middle Ages, European city dwellers had one way of avoiding their centuries-long waves of plagues: stay inside and hope for them to go away. Today, countries that have begun to open up amid Covid-19 — Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and South Korea among them — have started with a similar lockdown but have meanwhile moved to take control of the virus. The shared core of all their approaches has been the creation of vast SWAT teams, hundreds of specially trained workers who, clad in protective gear, swoop in to test for Covid-19, trace anyone with whom a discovered carrier has been in contact, and enforce a quarantine on the whole lot.
It is estimated that the U.S. needs 100,000 to 300,000 tracers, up from about 2,200 employed currently between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials. But no national mobilization is currently planned nor is there any sign that one will be later.