The Covid-19 pandemic has done far more Americans their lives than were killed in World War II. It. The loss of income and vanished business has caused the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, decimating the U.S. economy.
We are undergoing massive shifts in our lives. Millions of jobs are going out of existence that will not come back. These include jobs in business offices, retail spaces, restaurants, and performance venues that closed permanently; more jobs are lost from digitization and alternate service delivery methods like drones and self-driving vehicles. Nearly one in six restaurants have closed since March. Employment has dropped by 23 percent in the leisure and hospitality industries during the pandemic. As 2020 ended, the number of the unemployed stood at 10.7 million, and 8 million people fell into poverty in 2020.
For years, survey after survey has found that most people in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck. As the pandemic has worsened, a third of U.S. adults say they are having difficulty covering everyday costs such as food, rent or car payments. They face eviction, bankruptcy, and hunger.
Long food lines have become normal
Eighty-five percent of consumers are paying more for groceries since the pandemic began. Fifty-four million Americans face food insecurity, an increase of 17 million from pre-pandemic levels. Food lines a mile long in America’s appear in America’s wealthiest counties.
Not having a roof over your head is a human emergency
Census data for July 9-14, 2020, show that 13.8 million adults in rental housing — 1 in 5 renters — report being behind on rent. People paying their rent with credit cards has increased 70%. 12 million renters are now at least $5,850 behind in rent and utility payments. Rent debt could be as high as $70 billion.
President Biden has extended a freeze on evictions nationwide and a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for borrowers with federally guaranteed mortgages through the end of March. This is a temporary fix because as many as 40 million Americans cannot afford their homes – spending as much as half of their incomes on housing, making them at risk of losing their homes. (NPR)
Forced Life Style Changes
The pandemic altered where and how millions of people work. Americans have fled big cities in droves to escape the coronavirus pandemic, seeking more affordable homes and yard space for their families, home offices for parents, and designated areas for remote learning for their children. The main driver is that people want more space, prompting higher sales of luxury, suburban and rural homes, Surprising few want to return to downtown offices.
The Gallup Poll, which tracks worker attitudes found three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic, would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible.
Offices where once a thousand people working in them might have only 200 people working in the office and only 800 people working remotely. For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, a majority of Americans say they prefer to work at home.
Many people can work-from-anywhere and many of them are searching for cheaper places to live and moving outside cities. More than 15.9 million people moved during the first six months of COVID-19.
Many jobs can be done outside without an office, such as property inspectors, community nurses, and municipal planners, and more jobs are being restructured, using technology, to be done away from their offices, assuming their jobs have not gone of existence.
Instead of standing in lines at government offices, citizens can do much of their business with the government online, such as getting license applications, all kinds of forms, and documents from government websites. This, in turn, reduces the number of customer care employees required, working at counters and on the phone.
Americans are fleeing big cities to escape the coronavirus pandemic seeking more affordable homes and yard space for their families, home offices for working, and areas for remote learning for their children.
Many of them are staying, permanently or indefinitely. Escape means something different depending on whom you ask. Some seek protection from COVID, staying home for everything.
Many want more space, which pushes them out to cheaper areas. Wealthy people are more able to work remotely, accounting for higher sales of luxury, suburban and rural homes.
Homes with guesthouses or additional suites are selling as families take in their older parents. Many have taken elderly relatives out of nursing homes,
The exodus from cities reduces available jobs. In New York City, restaurant and bar closures number into the thousands, taking jobs and tax revenue with them. In Washington, DC, just 5% of office workers had returned to the city as of this past summer, In other cities where revenue comes from wage and business taxes, funding for public services is in a particularly precarious state.
A mid-October Gallup poll found one-third of Americans are still working from home amid COVID-19, with two-thirds of those remote workers hoping to continue remote work as economies recover. Given this, we can expect many empty and underused office spaces.
Meanwhile. home prices continue to rise, thanks to low-interest rates and an insufficient housing inventory, putting home-ownership out of reach for countless numbers of people. For many, it’s a matter of having any kind of roof over their heads. Retrieved from Gallup on October 19, 2020
Dan Rather once said, “Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.
While the pandemic has reduced street and highway traffic, public transit revenue has fallen has been hit hard by the pandemic, resulting in disruptions that isolate people. Revenue for Taxi and Limousine Services declined 35.5% in 2020 as people have cut back travel due to the pandemic and stay-at-home orders. Reduced transportation contributes to the need to have housing and food where people live. Our roadways need repair and to be enabled to handle 21st Century traffic management and innovations like Personal Public Transportation Pods. It will take $1 trillion to repair the nation’s infrastructure because of deferred maintenance. This includes fixing 47,000 of America’s 616,087 bridges that are “structurally deficient.”
Climate Change has caused energy crises, climate change, pollution, and the destruction of the natural habitat
Climate change is adding to our economic misery – droughts are killing off crops and raise food prices. More frequent and longer heatwaves lead to illness and death, forest fires, and power outages. . 4 in 10 people are subject to being flooded out by rising sea levels and hurricanes and storms pushing farther inland. Extreme weather and fire risk are raising the cost of homeowner insurance to unaffordable levels. Trash accounts for about 3 percent to 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and recycling isn’t going to be enough to keep global warming below catastrophic levels. “Extreme heat episodes” are going to “increase in frequency and magnitude and length.” Indeed, scientists predict that by 2060, Phoenix will have 132 days — over a third of the year — with over 100 degree temperatures. Extreme heat limits the ability of airlines to take off and causes heat deaths. Resources are needed to convert recycled plastic into useful products. Corporations need to be responsible for how they impact the climate from cradle-to-grave.
British and US scientists think there may be a possible climate link to Covid-19 caused by rising temperatures that bring bat species carrying the virus into areas of human habitation.
America’s bridges are falling apart faster than expected
Data: The American Road & Transportation Builders Association; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios
Roughly a third of the nation’s 620,000 bridges — 36% — need major repair work or replacement, a new report finds.
Why it matters: Deferred maintenance, climate change and heavier-than-anticipated traffic are causing bridges to wear out earlier than expected, and engineers say not enough is being done to keep drivers safe.
Driving the news: More than 43,500 U.S. bridges are in poor enough condition to be deemed “structurally deficient,” according to the report by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).
- Those bridges are crossed 167.5 million times a day.
- Chunks of concrete fall from bridges with some regularity, and routine inspections often reveal problems that prompt authorities to shut down lanes of traffic or close off a bridge to heavy vehicles, to reduce the weight burden.
- A bridge collapse last week in Pittsburgh — on the same day President Biden visited the city to talk about infrastructure — highlighted the problem, but engineers say it’s a bigger issue than many Americans may realize. At the current rate, it would take 30 years to fix all of America’s structurally deficient bridges. There’s progress being made — it’s just at a very slow pace,” says Alison Premo Black, senior vice president, and chief economist at ARTBA. “It’s just very disturbing that [accidents like Pittsburgh] can still happen despite all the steps being taken to keep the traveling public safe,” Black tells Axios.
What’s happening: Historic sums are about to be spent on bridge repair — more than $26.5 billion over five years — under Biden’s infrastructure law, the Department of Transportation announced in January.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called it “the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate highway system.”
Many bridges were built after World War II and were meant to last 100 years. But they’re falling apart ahead of schedule, due to combinations of extreme weather, the enormous growth of vehicle traffic, deferred maintenance, and a lack of coordinated oversight.
“You just have these cities which are growing to an unprecedented extent, and the infrastructure was never designed to handle the amount of traffic that these structures are expected to deal with every day,” Kevan Stone, executive director of the National Association of County Engineers, said.
What needs to be is the widespread installation of sensors that can help predict problems — which is happening in Europe but not the U.S. Monitoring the actual behavior of a bridge versus how it’s supposed to behave together with physical inspections, will help the Department of Transportation to identify bridges at risk and prioritize repairs and replacement projects
Solutions Are Within Our Grasp
Unused buildings – many of which have been made vacant because of workforce changes
Before the pandemic, retail space was overbuilt by up to 5% per capita in most cities. Brick-and-mortar stores even before the pandemic struggled to stay afloat in the age of e-commerce. One out four existing shopping malls are expected to shut down in the next few years. Direct commercial real estate investment fell nearly 30% globally in the first six months of 2020. More than one out of four rural hospitals are at immediate risk of closing.
The U.S. government alone owns an estimated 45,000 underused or underutilized buildings, plus abundant surplus land. Abandoned buildings create blight, inviting fires – 72 percent of all fires in these buildings are of incendiary or suspicious origin. Cities with low proportions of vacant land tended to have high numbers of abandoned structures. America’s supply of vacant land offers an opportunity to consider the potential of vacant land and abandoned structures serving as social and economic assets for cities.
Empty office buildings and shopping centers can be converted or rehabilitated to provide housing for millions of people. One of the first steps in solving housing needs would be for entities like school districts to identify obsolete or no longer needed properties that can be re-purposed. For example, school district officials in Kansas City found that their unused school buildings could be worth up to $15 million if sold or otherwise repurposed.
The Canadians are ahead of us in this. The province of Ontario was able to save almost $10 million in annual operating costs by selling more than 240 surplus properties valued at some $120 million. Some of those properties are now being repurposed for low-income and senior housing. Similarly, the city of Toronto launched an initiative to repurpose 18 city-owned properties into almost 13,000 affordable housing units.
An estimated 7.2 million new affordable housing units are needed to meet the unmet demand for housing. Might underutilized government offices, empty parking lots, shuttered public schools, vacant shopping malls open the way to relieving our chronic housing shortage of affordable housing and senior care facilities?
Other uses of dead space can include:
- People working from home offices from time to time need places where they can hold meetings, take advantage of business services, and make some human connections. Some creative businesses need to test their ideas while they are still in development. Conference rooms can be used for impromptu focus groups.
- Homeless shelters that can prepare meals and provide beds.
- Round-the-clock daycare centers can enable parents who work all shifts to have a safe place for their kids lessening the burden on family members to watch their kids.
The loss of crops due to environmental damage can be offset by growing food in cities. Fifteen percent of a city’s land has been found to be vacant. This includes undisturbed open space to abandoned, contaminated brownfields. Contaminated land can be reclaimed and returned to productive use.
Empty high-rise buildings can be used to grow vegetables hydroponically, using LED light and robots. The process involves growing plants in nutrient solutions that are essentially free of soil, as roots are submerged into the solution. The plants are regularly monitored to maintain the correct levels of chemical composition.
It’s estimated that one acre of vertical farming offers the equivalent production of at least four to six acres using conventional outdoor methods. As the plant’s growth is not dependent on sunlight or affected by weather conditions, like drought, storms, and growing seasons, growing lots of vegetables, herbs, and some fruits like strawberries. Plants grown indoors require as much as 70 percent less water than traditional farms. As much as 70% of the world’s water is used for agriculture. This is an easy way to save precious water for homes and businesses. Lettuce grows particularly well and vertical farms can even yield twenty times more lettuce than agricultural fields. Pesticides generally aren’t needed and there’s no soil depletion or harmful runoffs.
The closeness of vertical farms means produce can be delivered quickly to consumers, whether they are consumers or institutions like colleges. Urban Agriculture has been, recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture by opening an Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production.
Vertical farming ideally begins a virtuous cycle of natural diversification, with best-practice concepts capable of being expanded to help communities most at-risk of climate change danger. Indoor agriculture generally means consistent light, temperatures, nutrients, and moisture for crops no longer held hostage by nature’s cycles of drought, storms, and seasons.
Hydroponic systems are being developed enabling you can grow up to 120 plants in a space the size of a cupboard. The design is fully modular and can be built using standard parts purchased from the local hardware store. Growers adapt the plans to suit the type of food they want to grow. The open-source project also allows people to share their adaptations and improvements to the design with others, creating a collaborative process.
There is growing popularity in the number and type of hydroponic systems. These include an underground farm designed for abandoned urban areas and a countertop garden.
The world’s largest indoor vertical farm will launch in 2023. The new vertical farm will provide locally-sourced microgreens and sustainably-raised hybrid striped bass to consumers throughout Northeast America. The new facility, located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania will be 250,000 square feet. By early 2023 it plans to be providing fresh, locally-sourced microgreens and sustainably-raised hybrid striped bass to consumers throughout the Northeast United States.
The COVID-D pandemic is resulting in changes to the way we live and work. Some of these changes will be an acceleration of trends already underway that are resulting in a more empty office and industrial space. Some adaptations will make life better for many people, but for people whose lives and livelihoods are harmed, repurposing buildings and land can help them transition to the rest of the 21st century. Covid-19 often attacks the heart, both literally and figuratively. In the deserted downtowns, it feels as though you’d stumbled upon the cemetery where nondescript office towers go to die. In many residential suburbs, things look almost normal.
“Build Back Better” should mean accounting for all Americans and that “bounce back” from the pandemic crisis will look different than they did pre-pandemic — particularly their downtowns.
Here’s an example of what can be done – a former white supremacist store and Klan meeting space has been turned into a community center to promote racial reconciliation changing the mission to a building that had been dedicated to glorifying white supremacy known as the Redneck Shop. The story of this transformation was made into the 2018 film ‘Burden’.