How COVID-19 has affected city planning

After nearly two years we have become all too familiar with the impact of the pandemic on our families, workplaces, worship communities and social lives. But what changes will cities make to how they use and designate space now that the world has experienced a pandemic?

More time spent outdoors

Because COVID-19 is more readily spread when people are close to one another for extended periods  indoors, more people have found ways to be outside. This means more meetings, fitness, dining and recreation is happening outside. This affects how cities use and designate space.

Restaurants and staffing

Because restaurants that have not traditionally offered outdoor dining have had to pivot and offer tables outside, this has forced cities to review zoning. Staffing has been challenging for these businesses, to say the least. Other permitted food businesses, called “streeteries” can operate until their permit expires. But these permits will expire and what will happen then?

Mike Whately, vice president of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) said, “Expanded outdoor dining … it is critically needed to help the industry sustain the winter,” in an CBS interview in October, 2021. Cities must now find new ways to keep establishments open.

People making use of public parks

Parks–city, state and national–have never been busier. A June 13, 2021 article in the Wall Street Journal cited Utah parks experiencing a 30% increase since the pandemic began. WYMT in Kentucky noted on May 20, 2021 that Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee had seen a 115% increase in visitors.  This is affecting the way city planners think about green space. An April 10, 2020 article in the World Resources Institute journal TheCityFix stated, “A new approach to city planning should bring open spaces, watersheds, forests and parks into the heart of how we think about and plan our cities.”

The way we do business

Many cities and businesses instituted a mask mandate along with social distancing. Other businesses have shifted to a remote-only option for workers. This has affected commercial space, expansion, density, profits and the tax base. Because people avoided going to stores, or going out at all, this changed who was on the roads and who was using public transportation. This has nudged a re-think on overall infrastructure.

The pandemic has forced city leaders and planners to also pay critical attention to the ways the community is vulnerable. Ensuring that the community has vital resources such as food, water, energy and health care services are all key to a successful 2022.