How Pandemic Could Reshape Our Cities

Posted by on Aug 5, 2020 in News | 0 comments

How Pandemic Could Reshape Our Cities

WWW.URBANMILWAUKEE.COM (excerpts from https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2020/07/22/how-pandemic-could-reshape-our-cities/) – The COVID-19 pandemic has radically upended society. That chance for change extends even to the way our cities are built and function. Urban planners say there are real possibilities to correct major public policy failures and build a more sustainable and fair modern city.

Changes to public policy.

What is likely to happen is COVID-caused trends stick and become long term policy from urban planners and elected officials, according to Mike Slavney, director for planning services at Madison-based Vandewalle and Associates.

“I think that looking back at history, it is important to distinguish the short-term contemporary impacts from longer term change,” Slavney says. “We’re seeing a very extreme situation that’s likely to return mostly back to the way it was. But I think it’s going to accelerate some trends that were already present and gaining strength.”

Slavney says, reclaiming city streets wouldn’t be an idea coming out of left field — it’s a response to people needing more space and enjoying the outdoors more. If those habits stick, so could the response.

Even in Madison, the public bike paths and sidewalks have been packed with people biking, walking, skateboarding and rollerblading. Slavney says in addition to closing streets, cities might expand paths and complete unconnected sidewalk networks.

It’s not just streets. The move to remote work for thousands of workers and the increased decline of retail shopping could change the way downtown buildings are used. If working from home sticks and brick-and-mortar stores continue to close, what replaces all that space?

Affordable housing.

“We don’t have enough rental housing, small-unit housing,” Slavney says. “The housing we do have is not distributed in metro areas and it’s because for 100 years, the whole system has pushed owner-occupied single family houses built on metro edges. That is the least affordable kind of housing to build and often the least affordable to live in. All of those mismatches are being emphasized when people can’t afford house payments and rent.”

“I’m hopeful that the crisis greatly exacerbated by COVID-19 will remain at the forefront and we’ll see some changes,” he continues. “A need for much more diverse housing and the benefits of more centrally located housing jive well with the decline of retail and probably office space. There’s an opportunity for huge redevelopment.”

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