TMCnet Feature
May 11, 2020

Odis Jones Explains How COVID-19 Could Change City Planning in the Future

City planning wasn’t simple to begin with, but as the COVID-19 pandemic approaches a flattening curve, experts are advising local governments to rethink infrastructural development.

Small business owners are on the edge of their seats hoping to reopen before the last drop of cash runs out. Citizens are ready to return to work. But even many of the “reopen the country” protesters are wearing masks. Deep down, everyone knows that things have likely changed forever as the threat of contagion wanes.

For three decades, city redeveloper Odis Jones of Hutto, Texas, has converted cities into commercial and cultural hubs. He shares how he believes COVID-19 could change future city planning.

Redefining Sustainability in the 21st Century United States

For the first time in modern history, economic decision-makers are planning ahead with an awareness for how business as usual could wipe out a notable percentage of the population. Leaders must think in terms of sustainability, but not sustainability on financial terms alone, notes Odis Jones.

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed society’s weak points, from convincing citizens to take personal responsibility to shelter at home to the precarious month-to-month existence wherein small business owners have operated for decades.

How can cities redevelop towards a more sustainable future for its citizens? That’s what decision-makers are tasked with today.

Whatever city planning looks like moving forward, society is going to demand better ways to prevent and survive another COVID-19-like disaster.

Public Gatherings in a Post-COVID-19 Economy

The COVID-19 crisis raises questions about how public gatherings should look after 2020, says Odis Jones. It no longer seems wise to cram customers to within inches of each other for long periods of time.

COVID-19 reminds people today that many civilizations survived at the mercy of inexplicable immunity from pandemics for which experts of their day had no cure. After the best minds that 2020 has to offer still can’t say for sure if this is beginning, middle, or end of this tragedy, everyone else wonders how easy it would be for another pandemic to overrun the world.

As such, public gatherings are likely to look more spaced out. Dining areas will naturally garner social distancing between other guests. Customer lines will weave longer in an effort to give people their space.

City planning will also include more sanitation stations. Using hand sanitizer gels and wipes may become as commonplace as using one’s cell phone.

Odis Jones on Pandemic-proofing Public Transportation

Not only might social distancing impact public gatherings, but modes of public transportation may naturally reduce their carrying load to encourage permanent social distancing.

Additionally, says Odis Jones, many cities are looking for ways to provide more pandemic-proofed public transit, including bike and scooter rentals. Other cities are considering converting some streets to pedestrian-only thoroughfares.

Ironically, the best pandemic-proof tactic for public transportation is an increase in remote work. Businesses that have managed to continue operations do so after sending all their employees home. Moderately popular productivity and collaboration software are now “must-haves” for entire organizations. Many city planners hope that employers and employees come to love the remote team experience, thus cutting down on the necessity for public transit.

Repurposing Real Estate in Favor of Local Business

Too many local businesses have been punished into oblivion for trying to maintain the operating costs of store fronts. Strip malls and downtown main streets are bound to look painfully empty even as consumers clamor for the pre-coronavirus shopping experience.

City developers like Odis Jones have new ideas for revitalizing real estate. For some areas, temporary storefront space like the increasingly popular “pop-up shops” might be the answer. In other parts of the country, multi-business coops can share the overhead and set aside savings in the event of another pandemic-enforced shutdown.

Where possible, local governments are looking at ways to subsidize small business growth even during circumstances when entrepreneurs may not be able to afford overhead after lockdowns take effect.

Regardless, decision-makers and citizens may be in a new mindset to work together toward a more sustainable city infrastructure.

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