Reopening our Communities after COVID-19: Additional Insight from Richard Florida

Thoughts to consider as we envision the path forward [PM Magazine, May 2020]

May 1, 2020 | ARTICLE

There is light at the end of the tunnel. In the not-too-distant future, the pandemic will end and our cities will return to something approximating normal. This is a time when our cities and their leaders can and must show the way ahead. Read Richard Florida and Steven Pedigo's 10-point preparedness plan in "How Our Cities Can Reopen After the COVID-19 Pandemic."

In a recent ICMA webinar, Richard Florida shared additional thoughts on the path forward. At the end of the discussion, Florida opened the floor for participants to ask questions. We’ve paraphrased some of Florida’s most thought-provoking answers:

There is a lot of discussion not just about building back, but building back better.

We should be thinking about building back better for health and safety, equality and inclusiveness, for resiliency, and how our rebuild intersects for climate change or natural disasters.

People will be driving more.

What Florida sees happening is that some of the rural areas that were very attractive because they were on transit and transport lines won’t be as attractive right now. People will probably avoid transit and the people who are heading to rural areas probably can work remotely quite a bit of the time. Individuals who head out to rural areas will depend on their car more, at least for a while, instead of the train and transit system.

Communities and small business owners are going to have a competitive advantage.

If local leaders go the extra nine yards with financial assistance, mobilize local financial assistance, get professionals in the community to work with small businesses, work to provide technical assistance that they can re-open safely, then “you will have a competitive advantage,” says Florida.

We won’t see a large festival for a while (think Coachella or SXSW).

Is that a year? Florida was unsure, but we need to think about alternatives to large festivals—perhaps making them smaller, more regional. Same thing for professional and college sports. Large gatherings will be an issue for a long time without a vaccine or good therapies in place so we need to begin planning for that now.

There are parts of the civic environment that you can empower.

Florida recommends using people that have slack in their jobs, such as economic development professionals, destination marketing and convention professionals, universities/community colleges, and transit/transport authorities, among others. Not everyone is on the front lines of mobilization and local leaders should look to use other experts in the community that want to help. Find those resources and start those working groups for reopening and recovery planning.

Tourism communities and a plan for reopening.

Tourism areas are getting hit the hardest economically and these communities are in the greatest need of reopening strategies that are safe and secure. Here are some things to consider for your plan: What are the threats economically? What are the sectors that are the most exposed? How can we reboot and reopen in the quickest and safest way possible?

This is a regional problem.

The health problem is regional and the revenue problem is regional. Florida suggested that perhaps it’s time to really think about a consortium of states and localities to cooperate. Now is the time to think regionally and set up a task force or working group of how to address these regional fiscal impacts.

The great digital divide and broadband access.

Imagine going through this crisis without the internet. Florida called it “unfathomable.” Schools, the ordering of supplies and deliveries, information to remain safe during the pandemic—it’s all on the internet—and we need better state, regional, and national cooperation to provide internet access to disadvantaged communities. There are kids who have no access to internet or cable—how are they going to learn or connect with others? We need to pay more attention to it now and in the future.

At the end of the webinar, Florida parted with the greatest insight of all:

“When all is said and done, we’ve created a public health miracle and the silver lining is that our cities will emerge even stronger.”

 

 RICHARD FLORIDA is a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and School of Cities, and distinguished visiting fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. His books include The Rise of the Creative Class and The New Urban Crisis. (www.creativeclass.com)

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