The Daytime Population in Our Cities: It Worries Me
This piece asks us to consider the impact of Covid on America's cities.
I just read an article about the stunningly small daytime population in Washington DC currently. Here is the link:
It might be better to say that the article is about the lack of daytime population in Washington, DC. And, I have to assume that despite the uniqueness of DC, it is not the only city experiencing remarkable declines in daytime populations. For me, the number of questions raised by this article keeps growing, and it seemed wise to frame some of those questions for others to consider with me. We are in a time when collaborative thinking, not isolationism, is the best approach (politics notwithstanding).
- The vacancies in DC offices abound. Can we assume that tenants are paying rent or did the leases have a quality force majeure clause that mitigates rents in the time of a pandemic? If rent is being paid, how long will that be sustainable? If rent is not being paid, how long can commercial lessors withstand the loss? What good are empty buildings? To what other use can they be put?
- If the offices are not opening, there are a number of service businesses that will fail. When these service businesses fail due to the daytime absence of people, what happens to those owners and the space they are leasing? Will those owners cease payments on a go-forward basis? What happens to that space? Boarded up spaces is not a good look.
- It seems that residential occupancy is not in steep decline although vacancies are up. The article suggests higher in-city residential life pricing for apartments and condo. Will that continue? What services will be needed for those continuing to live “downtown?” I thought that there was a flight from city to living into safer locations where quarantining is easier and better. That accounts for the vacancies but not the higher rental/condo prices.
- What will it take for businesses to return? A certain uptake of vaccines? A therapeutic solution to Covid? Who has those numbers and that timetable?
- Even in the presence of vaccines/cures, will employees what to return into cities? Or, is this the time to rethink in its entirely how we do business and where? Is fundamental change happening in the workplace that will change for decades where and how we do what we did in downtown offices?
- Can we learn anything from the NBA and NHL bubbles, which seem to be working? Surely the expense of those make their replication difficult if not impossible for businesses.
- Can we learn anything from college reopenings and the data suggesting that outbreaks are a reality. A recent NYTimes article suggested that there are 26,000 cases of COVID on 750 campuses, with a frightening number of campuses with more than 100 cases. See the article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/covid-college-cases-tracker.html
- To reflect more on the college situation, what if the reopened colleges need to shut down? What are the data points for shutdown and future reopening? These are questions need to be known in advance, right? How will students get to/fro?
- We can ask what will be happening in terms of PreK-12 reopenings and how they will proceed, given the myriad of models at play and a host of unknowns. Can businesses and cities learn from any of these models -- hybrid approaches; certain workers on site; varied schedules with cleaning interventions?
I could go on and on with questions. And, the answers are hard to find and most answers lead to more questions. That said, here are a few conjectures the above questions produce for me. I won’t make predictions; we lack the facts to do that ably. Perhaps you can call these conclusions -- recognizing that we can conclude that we know little and can predict even less.
A. We need facts that are accurate and data that are measured in the same fashion. We need shared databases and shared strategic approaches. In short, we need to work together.
B. We need to be open to entirely new models for what and how we do what we do. That isn’t easy and it means shedding traditions and approaches that have been in our lives for decades.
C. We need to plan. We can’t wing it. Too many lives are at stake. Businesses and schools can’t be opened and closed like light switches (although we have done that and may continue to treat the opening/closure as simple acts of flipping switches.
D. We can exhibit patience and stop the urge to create certainty when none exists. That is not how most of us find the greatest psychological comfort. Uncertainty makes us queasy.
E. We need to admit that there are psychological ramifications to everything that is occurring and the closures and changes and transitions are hard, if not traumatic, for many people and families.
F. We need to be bold and creative, without politics, in reflecting on the future of our nation -- of which our cities are a big part.
G. We should pause and reflect on what we have that matters and what values do we need to insure endure. After all, when we get a chance to pause, can we even identify what matters most to us -- as people and as a nation. James Ryan had a set of 5 questions we need to ask of ourselves (and our students) in his stellar short book: Wait What? I think we need to ask some of those very questions now.
Let me hear from you. Let me know your thinking. Let’s work together.
I am an author and educator. I write adult and children's books and specialize in student success and the impact of trauma on learning and psychosocial development. My newest adult book is Trauma Doesn't Stop at the School Door; my newest children's book is titled Tongue Twisters and Beyond.