How is the COVID-19 pandemic changing urban areas? In these reports, we explore the landscape of COVID-19 disruptions to date and the impacts this has had on land use and real estate, urban design, building design, transportation, e-commerce and retail, and goods delivery. We also highlight the longer-term questions and potential ongoing impacts COVID-19 might have on the built environment, mapping COVID-19’s impacts across the topics covered in the Urbanism Next Framework.
Impacts to the Urbanism Next Framework
The Urbanism Next Framework organizes the potential impacts of emerging technologies into five categories and five types of broader implications. This framework was originally built thinking of new transportation technologies, including AVs, TNCs, and micromobility, as the drivers of change. The Covid-19 pandemic caused Urbanism Next to shift gears and apply this framework to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Urbanism Next's findings can be found in the report, Covid-19 Impacts on Cities and Suburbs: Impacts to the Urbanism Next Framework.
Since the onset of the pandemic, transit ridership has fallen substantially, and transit operators are struggling to find the right balance between keeping people moving, especially essential workers, and sufficiently protecting transit workers from the risk of exposure. There are also serious concerns about budget shortfalls with the precipitous drop-off in ridership. Which temporary service changes, if any, will be made permanent? Will mobility inequities be exacerbated if transit agencies reduce service or eliminate some lines entirely?
Transportation Network Companies
TNC ridership has decreased dramatically as a result of COVID-19 and companies like Uber and Lyft have been pivoting to delivery to help fill the gap. Drivers for TNCs have expressed concerns about their safety, and long-term questions about the lack of a safety net for drivers persist. Will ridership pick up again as restrictions are lifted, particularly if some shift away from transit? Will companies like Uber and Lyft, which were not yet profitable before the pandemic, have to raise prices in order to remain viable?
In the current climate of global travel restrictions and public safety concerns, many micromobility companies have pulled their vehicles off city streets. At the same time, bikeshare ridership has increased significantly in cities such as New York and Chicago and some companies are offering discounts and free trips to essential workers. As cities begin to move again, will micromobility be seen as an essential component of resilient, sustainable transportation networks?
E-Commerce & Retail
The closures of ‘non-essential’ businesses have forced experimentation with e-commerce and blurred the line between digital and physical stores. As states enter new phases of reopening, which of these new e-commerce buying behaviors and services will stick? What will stores have to do to make customers and employees feel safe and comfortable?
Under stay-at-home orders and phased re-openings, people have changed their use of streets, open spaces, and buildings. How can cities manage this behavior in the short-term, and create the most beneficial long-term outcomes as we move into less restricted phases of the crisis?
With the regular patterns of life, work, and play coming to a standstill, many people and businesses are adapting their surroundings in makeshift ways. Some of these modifications will only be temporary, but depending on the severity and duration of this crisis how many of these measures will result in lasting trends in our built environment?
With stay-at-home orders in place many people have placed online orders to substitute for trips to the store, which means increased demand for delivery. In order to meet this increased demand, companies like Instacart have embarked on hiring sprees and companies like Uber and Lyft are pivoting to delivery. Concurrently, frontline delivery workers have organized strikes to call attention to the need for better protection and hazard pay, and access to delivery has proven to be uneven. Even as stores begin to reopen, it is likely that at least some of the increased demand for delivery will be sustained. How will this impact curb management? Will we need more designated loading zones and parcel lockers in the public domain? Will calls for better worker protections be answered?
Land Use & Real Estate
Covid-19 has disrupted daily life and impacted all types of real estate from housing and office spaces to retail and warehouses. Many residential and commercial tenants have been unable to pay their rents and mortgages throughout the pandemic and with eviction moratoriums and financial assistance set to expire throughout the summer, major changes could be underway. Real estate impacts have been highly varied across the country and there will continue to be delayed responses as our behaviors and businesses adjust. If many office workers continue to work from home in the long-term, will residential preferences change? Will central business districts dissolve into neighborhood commercial hubs and mixed-use development? With alarmingly high estimates for business closures on the horizon, how can the buildings and land they once occupied be repurposed to create more resilient, livable cities?
Additional Topics and Resources
Here are a collection of articles, podcasts, and webinars that have been shaping our outlook recently. You can also find additional resources and links to other organizations here.