Thank you COVID-19.
But what will life be like – after the November election and after the virus has finally been squelched – hopefully, a year or two from now.
The inspiration for my thoughts today came from NYT op-ed writer, David Leonhardt’s column, “It’s 2022. What Does Life Look Like?”
First, let’s get the political part of this discussion out of the way. Let’s presume Trump does not get re-elected this fall, and Biden wins. If Biden is elected, then it will take us a couple of years to eliminate all the executive orders Trump made, and to get our foreign relations into a positive position so that other nations, most importantly our allies, trust us again. Yes, trust takes time to build and grow.
I am also assuming (and hoping desperately) that by 2022 a vaccine will have been discovered, and sufficiently manufactured to prevent many of us around the world from getting coronavirus. Just think of the time it will take to manufacture the 330 million needed in the U.S, alone. If a vaccine is not found, the world will continue to be dramatically affected, a tomorrow I don’t particularly want to live through.
What will our local cities look like? What will our lifestyles actually be? Chances are we may have gotten used to avoiding crowds, Socialization will be critical, but are football and baseball games really good for crowds? Or movie theaters? Theaters may be a thing of the past.
What about our department stores? I walked through the Stanford Shopping Center the other day and already some well-known stores are boarded up. Others, like Neiman-Marcus, have declared bankruptcy. Will the center make it financially in the future? Or will people resort to online shopping?
Just as important is what kind of financial effect will this have on local economies, if shopping centers and downtowns diminish? Where will the tax dollars our cities have relied on for so long come from? Retail sales and restaurants have brought in millions to city coffers.
And that is the crux of my concern. If businesses and retail disappear, where will cities and school districts get their funding from? The state is facing similar problems. It’s time to start thinking about this.
What about working at home? Will businesses find it easier and a lot less costly to have most employees stay at home desks? What about all those existing downtown office buildings, and all those along El Camino Real? Will they become empty buildings? Will they be converted into housing so people can finally live in the area? But if businesses close, the jobless may move away. More loss of revenue.
And what about education in 2022? Most of us want our kids to go back to schools, but will districts be forced to consider the economic efficiencies of classes online? And then what do working parents do? And what about the need for more schools? There are fewer children now, and, as Leonhardt pointed out, “Birth rates have fallen, and the percentage of young people gong to college isn’t significantly rising anymore … Undergraduate enrollment fell 8 percent between 200 and 2018.”
What about newspapers? Many are already failing, and many more have cut their staffs in half. Fewer stores are advertising and newspapers need ad revenue to stay viable.
Newspapers are the guardians of democracy, and in a democracy where people get elected to office, who is going to watch over the behavior of the politicians? The public? How will they let others know if their city officials are on the take – or even corrupt? Will people care? They must.
Business travel has disappeared, for now. Will it come back? Or will companies find it easier to zoom, rather than fly 10 hours to an overseas meeting. Airlines will continue, but if business travel is eliminated, there will be fewer of us flying. Will that have any effect on Palo Alto Airport? Or Mineta Airport – or even SFO?
If people travel less, how does that affect hotels? Palo Alto is laden with hotels, and the taxes from them bring millions into the city. What if that money disappears? How will that affect Palo Alto’s current $190 million general fund, which already is experiencing a $40 million decline this year?
Will people still use cars? Yes, because kids need to be taken places and because elders can’t bike around town and because all of us need to get groceries that can’t be carried home on a bike. Cars will remain, but will be limited, I suggest. But traffic, our major concern a couple of months ago, will lessen!
Our future will change. We all face the same changes, and change is uncomfortable. Will all these bleak questions I ask start us thinking about our new normal?