Long-term implications of COVID-19 on transportation, development patterns, and air quality

COVID-19 is an important moment in the history of cities. Even as we continue to battle the public health emergency of COVID-19, and are grappling with the economic emergency, we are beginning to understand that living with a pandemic may forever alter people’s lifestyles and decisions. COVID-19 shifts include teleworking, more online shopping, less commuting and driving, different uses of living and working spaces, and more biking and walking. In short, life has been revolving more around our neighborhoods. This is a “great localization” of life and activity.

Enduring changes in lifestyle like these can affect the physical form and function of cities. This happened when automobile use and suburbanization boomed after World War II, and may shift again in the coming years. Despite being forced upon us by COVID-19, we have learned that localization of activity can have positive effects for many households, businesses, and the economy. For example, it can mean reduced travel demands, more walking and bicycling, and overall improvements to air quality. These changes also have the potential to impact municipal revenues. Economic benefits follow the teleworker, including the ability for municipalities to capture the teleworkers’ distribution of online retail sales taxes.

So what communities will the teleworker choose to live in? If patterns of activity are centered more around the home, and teleworkers can work from anywhere, they may choose to live in a more complete community.

How will municipalities respond to these potential long-term changes? Communities are made more complete with the presence of strategically located town centers, a part of the shared Wasatch Choice Regional Vision. Having nearby destinations in town centers like grocery stores, restaurants, parks, or haircuts is part of the recipe to attract teleworkers. A town center will also be more desirable if it is designed to be real community amenity by being walkable and having character.

Recently, WFRC Executive Director Andrew Gruber and Deputy Director Ted Knowlton presented these long-term implications during the Utah Legislature’s Clean Air Caucus meeting. You can listen to the full meeting by clicking HERE.