City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

21. Clear skies, full parks, can’t lose

Written in


Morning walk, Granö 28 July 2020

A casebook logging how our environment changed – or not – reviewing progress, or lack of it, against the original Slowdown Papers; Is the curve beyond the curve fading, or become clearer?

The first sets of Slowdown Papers ranged across numerous possibilities and pitfalls inherent in the moment, observing some emerging patterns, and speculating as to others. Some of those patterns have continued to unfold, and some may have stuck, while others faded as rapidly as they appeared.

The simple act of spotting patterns has become near-impossible. Every day brings torrents of information, which can variously bewilder or bewitch. Every day seems to produce 100 new interesting findings, stories, suggestions. Each of those generates 100 ideas. Almost all flavours of researcher are closely tracking the virus from their various perspectives, whilst journalists, friends, and colleagues are also unfurling anecdotes in real-time.

Attempting to track stories coherently is a mug’s game, even given a range of defined interests. This is not least because, as the duration of the pandemic stretches out, later research has already begun to counter and challenge initial findings or suppositions. In some respects, the story changes every few hours, seemingly as the wind changes direction – or as a virus mutates. One can’t tell if a pattern is a misleading blip or a rich seam of new possibility. But it’s near-impossible to look away either way, with so much at stake beyond the initial curves of the coronavirus.

I can listen to a single episode of Talking Politics, for example, and find numerous points of reference with the earlier Slowdown Papers (a recent episode with Diane Coyle talking with David Runciman and Helen Thompson covered working from home, the shift to the suburbs, regional economies, the future of work, and the resilience of cities, the importance of universal basic services over universal basic income, the role of technology, and Big Tech, in all this, and more besides.)

In particular, what was clear from the early days of the lockdown — or the slowdown, depending on where you were — was a powerful environmental impact. This was environmental in both micro and macro senses, in that it concerns both everyday experience and everyday infrastructures. There was much discussion about people rediscovering their neighbourhoods, a renewed sense of environmental awareness and value, a different sense of time and place, an appreciated of long-suffering biodiversity, and some changed behaviours accordingly. Equally, the combined impact of all that affected our built infrastructures — streets and roads, aviation, sports and leisure, energy, retail spaces, our dwellings and offices space, and so on. The personal observations were as intriguing as the data, usually more so.

“A silver lining, if there has to be one, is that only a few days after lockdown, I could see the stars again for the first time in years. My city is at a standstill and the smog has cleared. The sky at night is a revelation.” — Wang Xiuying, Wuhan, London Review of Books, 16 April 2020

“On April 3, residents of the Indian city of Jalandhar saw something they hadn’t in at least 40 years: the spectacular snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas walling off the far eastern outskirts of their city. Halfway around the world, at roughly the same time, I had the similar (admittedly less dramatic) experience of looking out the window of my Los Angeles home and seeing, for the first time, the most beautiful mountain in Southern California — San Jacinto — staring back at me from 100 miles away.” — Matthew Flesicher, ‘Coronavirus shutdowns are making it undeniably clear how toxic our car culture is’, LA Times, 22 April 2020

“We were looking at a sunset the other day…and the colors and the clarity of the sun as it passed over the horizon was comparable to what we’d see up in Leland County in Michigan. And I’ve never seen anything like that in the city.” — Dan Weese, Chicago, 9 May 2020

“The air is clean and fresh, fish have reappeared in urban waterways, birds are frequenting uncut gardens, wild mammals are meandering through cities and greenhouse gas emissions will likely drop by an unprecedented 8% this year. Nature has clearly benefited from several months of dramatically reduced economic activity” — Christiana Figueres, ‘Covid-19 has given us the chance to build a low-carbon future’, 1 June 2020

“You look around you and the air feels cleaner. I’m desperate that we embrace this, and I think we will as an industry, to help us become a more sustainable industry.” — Jamie Hindhaugh, chief operating officer at BT Sport, 15 May 2020

“Pippo and Anastasia Nicosia, flower vendors, came back to Campo on 4 May — and were here this morning at 7am. “It’s much quieter, fewer people. But we’ve been given a chance to see a Rome that perhaps we lost for a while,” Anastasia says. “Will it pick up? We need to wait before we have an idea what reality will be like … before we have equilibrio.” — Erica Firpo, Life after lockdown: ‘Rome is trying to find her equilibrio’, 18 May 2020

“And even while the virus proliferates, who could not be thrilled by the swell of birdsong in cities, peacocks dancing at traffic crossings and the silence in the skies?” — Arundhati Roy, New Delhi, 3 April 2020

Almost all of those statements arrive during April and May 2020, in what we might call the first wave of reflection. February and March were clearly to be filed under “Wait, what?”. But by April and May some patterns have emerged, allowing some tentative speculation as well as recording—“Wait, what if?”

Clearly, the statements above are implicitly positive about the immediate environmental impact—perhaps only those Roman flower vendors strike an ambivalent note. Of course my initial set of Slowdown Papers was also recording all these impressions at that time, as slamming the handbrake on a good chunk of the global economy had indeed revealed an immediate environmental impact—what I called ‘The Restoration’.

It’s still worth repeating for the umpteenth time that this initial essentially positive environmental impact does not counterbalance the immediate loss of life—no matter that every year, combined environmental impacts, due to our past and present choices, kill, harm, and marginalise far more people than COVID-19 ever will. But as an additional environmental impact, the virus was an unnecessary and awful addition to this, particularly as it has disproportionately affected those already discriminated against. This also foreshadows the greater crises to come, in that the virus also creates an additional economic impact on people employed under the most vulnerable and precarious conditions. Hundreds of thousands of people dying from the pandemic is appalling, a statement that should barely need repeating — well, except it does.

Still. One of the many impacts of this first half-year of the virus has been to perform other ways of seeing the world around us. For all the horror and fear, the virus has demonstrated the value in slowing down, turning assumptions upside down, holding them up for us to examine them—almost, as I suggested, like an A/B test on our way of life. For instance, how do we grasp the value of addressing climate, health and social justice crises powerfully and simultaneously, as opposed to incoherently and separately, without challenging assumptions? These crises are fundamentally connected, integrated, entwined—as the virus shows.

So what if we address the ideas implicit in a slowdown intentionally in this way, rather than being clumsily, carelessly and calamitously forced into by a pandemic? As I wrote in Slowdown Paper 10, using aviation as an example, we have the chance to frame active decisions about things that have otherwise been allowed to proceed unchallenged (at least, under the smokescreen of democratic processes that have rarely put the true issues on the table in a meaningful way.)

“After the virus, then, there is an active decision to be made by policymakers, framed by this common experience: what size should the aviation sector grow back to? Should the aviation sector fire up the engines right away, and just go back to where they were? Or is it a sector we look at now, in the spirit of A/B testing, and realise that we don’t need as much of it.”—Slowdown Paper 10: Another Green World

So, with the idea of forcing us to repeatedly keep looking back at these impacts, and extract some latent value out of what is otherwise a terrible pandemic—given that the manoeuvres are largely those we need to address these broader crises anyway—what did happen? How did people, places, politics react? As Janette Sadik-Khan puts it below, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The following is a kind of curated and annotated dumping ground for impacts and actions, a form of casebook in which I capture what I found useful, interesting or challenging, based on the themes in the first set of Papers. This casebook addresses those environmental impacts in particular. It’s not that I’m not interested in other angles—like data gathering, privacy and surveillance culture, education, never mind virtual humans—and there have been many other impacts, positive and negative. Some will pop up in this series. Others will be discussed more ably elsewhere. But what follows is a selected casebook of recorded impact on aspects of the immediate environment and its links to everyday infrastructures.

Clear skies, clear streets

The pandemic’s impact on the environment was immediately staggering, immediately questionable, began to quickly tail off as transport fired up again, and ultimately could be dismissed as ‘a blip’, although a potentially useful one. Without systemic change, no real impact was likely, after all that. Greenland’s ice sheet melting past the point of no return served to underline that.

Yet beyond the emissions, given the point at which it occurred in human development, looking down the barrel of the last decade in which we can make significant inroads into the climate crisis, it may also have been one of the most significant environmental events in recorded history. Though many aspects of the immediate impact did not last, it is not clear whether the broader cultural impact will allow a sustained and positive impact on our environment, including our health and social justice. The sense that it could do is largely the motivation behind writing this series of Papers.

“Compared with this time last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus. In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. The proportion of days with “good quality air” was up 11.4% compared with the same time last year in 337 cities across China, according to its Ministry of Ecology and Environment.”—‘Will Covid-19 have a lasting impact on the environment?’, Martha Henriquez, BBC News, 27 March 2020

Christiana Figueres, who was head of the UN climate change convention that achieved the Paris agreement in 2015, captured a sense of the possibility at the start of June 2020.

“The air is clean and fresh, fish have reappeared in urban waterways, birds are frequenting uncut gardens, wild mammals are meandering through cities and greenhouse gas emissions will likely drop by an unprecedented 8% this year. Nature has clearly benefited from several months of dramatically reduced economic activity. From a climate crisis perspective, this drop in emissions is astonishingly close to the 7.6% yearly reduction in emissions that scientists have advised will be necessary during the next decade. And yet none of this is cause for celebration.”—Christiana Figueres, ‘Covid-19 has given us the chance to build a low-carbon future’

Figueres quickly followed this by stating, however, that “This is not what addressing the climate crisis looks like. The thoughtful reduction of greenhouse gases has to be intentional not circumstantial, sustained not temporary.” She was, and is, right. Yet briefly, what did the initial impact feel like?

From mid-January to mid-February, China’s carbon emissions fell by around 25%, through a combination of industrial slowdown and traffic shutdown. In Delhi, which often records the worst air quality in the world, pollution caused by PM2.5 was reduced by roughly 75%, as traffic congestion dropped by 59%. A 70% reduction in toxic NOx was reported in Paris.

Briefly, Los Angles had the cleanest air of any major city in the world. Los Angeles. This was particularly due to shifts in NOx, which had only recently been revealed to have been worse than previously thought. Satellite imagery showed nitrogen dioxide levels in Milan fell by about 40%.

In the UK, road travel decreased by as much as 73%. In London, toxic emissions at major roads and junctions fell by almost 50%. In publishing the research, Mayor Sadiq Khan made clear that the cleaner air should not be temporary and that London’s ongoing challenge is to “eradicate air pollution permanently”.

Update: By the end of the year, Carbon Monitor (amongst others) tracked the actual drop in CO2 emissions at least. For example:

Air pollution turns out to be particularly key, as research soon suspects, and then validates, that there is a direct link between poor air quality and far higher COVID-19 death rates (increasing the death rate by 6%—although the correlations are complex.). And poor people have to suffer poor air quality, disproportionately, and that this often correlates with racism, and other discriminatory system effects. Yet an initial report by Public Health England merely confirmed that the mortality risk is higher in BAME groups than white ethnic groups, without looking at this systemic link with air pollution. Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, a WHO advocate for health and air quality, said:

“I find it astonishing that they didn’t look at air pollution. Some people will say air pollution in itself is racism because, yet again, it disproportionately affects black people — COVID-19 has just made it more obvious.”

The urban mobility app Moovit reported that public transport ridership dropped on average by 78% worldwide, with Milan and Rome, for example, seeing a decrease of 89%. In Japan, ridership dropped initially but bounced back relatively quickly.

Stamen Design’s great work with Facebook data gives clear visualisations of the impact on mobility.

Puerto Rico saw a decrease in mobility the week of March 15, a few days after the first Covid-19 cases were announced there (work by Stamen Design)

Of course, although car use initially dropped, there is evidence that it bounced to then fill this gap left by public transport. Yet bikes picked up the slack hugely, too. In March, use of bike-share systems increased by roughly 150% in Beijing. In New York, the CitiBike service reported a 67% increase in usage of their bikes, comparing March 2020 to March 2019, and cycling on main thoroughfares increased by 52%. Meanwhile, cycling traffic increased by 151% on trails in Philadelphia and in April Dundee saw cycling traffic increase by 94%.

In late July, Spotify listening data told us in-car listening was still less than prior to the pandemic, but was reportedly increasing. Halting the ferries in Hong Kong appeared to lead directly to an increase in dolphins, rather happily.

(This short film of skateboarding in a largely deserted Los Angeles would capture the mood-world of the locked-down city just as well — were in not produced in 2014, six years previously! Yet it circulated online significantly during the early months of the pandemic, summing up a mood-world experienced by many.)

And then the street-works kick in. In the Colombian city of Bogotá, mayor Claudia López closed 117km (72.7 miles) of streets to cars in order to make cycling and walking easier during the coronavirus lockdown. Lopez has extended the Sunday streets closure programme throughout weekdays too, as well as added 80km (49.7 miles) of cycle lanes to the city’s existing network of 550km (341.7 miles). Temporary street closures to cars have taken place in Brighton, Bogotá, Cologne, Vancouver and Sydney as well as multiple US cities including Boston, Denver and Oakland. Austin, USA, was blocking off streets for exercise space.

Salt Lake City’s ‘Stay Safe, Stay Active: Response to COVID-19’ program opened up 10 streets to give residents more room for community recreation, including walking and cycling—and usefully conducted a survey on the impact.

Survey results from Salt Lake City’s ‘Stay Safe, Stay Active: Response to COVID-19’ program

Vancouver is installing 50 km of ‘slow streets’ and using roadways for patios. Berkeley, CA is closing down key streets to cars. Tel Aviv pledged to convert 11 city centre streets into pedestrian zones. Tallinn, Estonia, is building a 13.5km ‘green corridor’ threading together neighborhoods. Portland, Oregon, has sped up long-standing plans to ensure 90% of residents live in “complete neighborhoods,” turning 90 miles of roads into neighbourhood greenways.

Vancouver Slow Streets initiative

Milan is particularly interesting. It was the city at the heart of the initial European virus outbreak. But previously, and far more damagingly, it suffered terrible air pollution for decades. These two situations collided, terribly, given the likelihood of air pollution exacerbating the effects of COVID-19; yet in a sense, it merely highlighted the far greater impact of poor air quality on the city.

Milano Strada Aperte programme sketches

The city immediately saw the opportunity to prevent the return of traffic pollution. Their Strade Aperte (“Open Roads”) programme, brings wider sidewalks, temporary cycling lanes, and lower speed limits to some 22 miles of city streets.

“We worked for years to reduce car use. If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops. Of course, we want to reopen the economy, but we think we should do it on a different basis from before.”—Marco Granelli, deputy mayor of Milan

“Before, we were planning for 2030; now the new phase, we are calling it 2020. Instead of thinking about the future, we have to think about the present.” — Pierfrancesco Maran, deputy mayor of Milan

Pop-up bike lanes have appeared in cities including Berlin, Budapest, Mexico City, New York, Dublin and Bogotá. Berlin bike lanes are rapidly progressed in record time (perhaps predictably, without a broader set of more difficult changes, the next few months witnesses increased cyclist deaths in Berlin linked to these bike lanes. The temporary bike lane is the easy bit, no matter how impressively speedy this work is, and how much it may prepare the ground for broader shifts. The real goal has to be removing trucks and cars in the first place.

New Zealand and Scotland made funding available for temporary cycle lanes and walkways, at least during the virus (the New Zealand transport agency ‘Innovating Streets for People’ fund seems well-considered.) In Germany, a fairly ambitious programme of pop-up bike lanes was pinned as helping social distancing (whatever it takes.) In May, Brussels announced that it would make its entire city core a priority zone for cyclists and pedestrians for the forseeable future.

In Budapest, new temporary cycle lanes are due to last until September — but maybe further. Samu Balogh, the mayor’s chief of staff, says “We are constantly monitoring the use of the temporary bike lanes, and we are hoping that a good many of them could remain in place. The pandemic has changed transport globally… We have the opportunity to see what would our cities look like when we are designing for people, not cars.”

Presentation from webcast on Berlin bike lanes tactics

Forbes reports on Paris promising to create 650 kilometres of pop-up corona cycleways, and Paris in particular has “been the poster child for this shift”, as Bloomberg CityLab puts it.

“The French capital swiftly moved to install a regime of “corona cycleways” to ease transit crowding and prevent traffic from surging back into the city as businesses reopened. Recent images from the city show an almost Copenhagen-like renaissance of urban bicycling. Adding this kind of infrastructure isn’t just about allowing people to be outside safely, says Montreal mayor Valérie Plante, whose city plans to add roughly 300 kilometers (186 miles) of temporary cycling and pedestrian paths this summer: It also supports local business. “We want to encourage people to buy local, and forget Amazon,” she said at a July 15 press conference.” — Bloomberg CityLab

This builds on Paris’s ‘15-minute city’ strategy, announced well before the coronavirus. I’ll discuss this further; it’s impressive. Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced:

“I say in all firmness that it is out of the question that we allow ourselves to be invaded by cars, and by pollution,” she said. “It will make the health crisis worse. Pollution is already in itself a health crisis and a danger — and pollution joined up with coronavirus is a particularly dangerous cocktail. So it’s out of the question to think that arriving in the heart of the city by car is any sort of solution, when it could actually aggravate the situation.”—Mayor Anne Hidalgo

In Vilnius, Lithuania, the need to create space for restaurants and cafés, given social distancing requirements, led to the realisation that open-air public space may be far better this way, as opposed to reductive, destructive car parking (Of course, then the Vilnius cafés bring their own issues.)

This battle for the pavement will be interesting: in Paris, Le Figaro described the moves in terms of a “war for public space”, suggesting that Covid-19 will trigger “pedestrians v diners, cycles v cars”. (Ultimately, it’s easy to imagine pedestrians, diners, and cycles sharing public space, and again, there are numerous examples — for centuries — of productive ways of doing this. Cars are the mutual excluders here.) In Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, officials have announced a plan to allow restaurants to effectively take over entire streets so that they can maximise the number of tables they can serve, and to ensure pavements do not become crowded.

In Vienna, the Gürtelfrische WEST project, with design by heri und salli, shows a major transformation during August 2020. It perhaps exemplifies only a few of the outcomes for a street—there’s a particularly narrow ‘target market’ implied in the video below—but indicates how to transform a large street well beyond simple paint and bollards.

Design by heri und salli

Nicholas de Monchaux, dean of architecture at MIT, wrote in the New York Times that allowing “for a safer, more widespread, and not incidentally more equitable access to open space, cities across the world have closed streets to cars and opened them to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Oakland has been a leader, transforming 10 percent of its streets into public promenades. San Francisco, New York and others have followed. Already in Seattle, there is talk of making such changes permanent.”

Jeffrey Tumlin, who directs San Francisco’s transit agency: “If San Francisco retreats in a fear-based way to private cars, the city dies with that, including the economy, Why? Because we can’t move more cars. That’s a fundamental geometrical limit. We can’t move more cars in the space we have.”

In England, restrictions have been lifted to enable and encourage councils to more quickly close streets to cars. The BBC reported on the challenge of reshaping UK cities after lockdown, as well as summarising the pandemic’s impact on city traffic. Smartly, the government issues £50 vouchers to get your old bike reconditioned. London is due to remove many cars from their streets as the lockdown eases, rebuilding around cycling and walking. The city’s Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN) planned to emerge over some years are fast-forwarded. (“We were told that plans originally set for 2023 would be happening in three weeks,” says one of the organisers.) Here, though, there is some controversy that the streets chosen are ‘the easy bits’, perhaps. If the city can motivate a ripple effect from those streets, and combine with some genuinely strategic Paris-style ‘15-minute city’, then fine. Otherwise, there’s clearly a danger of a typical London story—playing to an elite, framed around land ownership and capital.

Writing in Disegno’s Lockdown Paper, Rory Hyde suggests a genuine process of engagement would have likely resulted in very different schemes, pointing out that all the major proposed cycle works are in Zone 1 of London, if not the City of London financial centre. Hardly equitable at all, in a city which lives largely outside of these spaces, and whose traffic problems, and associated air pollution, are also elsewhere.

Rory Hyde, in Disegno’s Lockdown Paper

Elsewhere in London, a perhaps richer, more engaged approach can be seen in Participatory City Foundation’s retroftting streets work Tomorrow Today Streets, which develops models for post-COVID neighbourhoods from the street up.

Ed. Noting a personal interest, I’m on the board of Participatory City Foundation.

TessyBritton describes this broader potential of this model beautifully. The real power may lie in connecting the super-local legitimacy of the Tomorrow Today Streets model with the broader resilience of a retrofitted municipality, fusing them together in one. (My subsequent Paper, 36. Slowdown landscapes: One-Minute City — Fifteen-Minute City, looks at work we’re doing in Sweden to that effect.)

In Boston, where a slightly more careful reshaping seems to be occurring, grants from the city ensure that ramps enable accessibility to restaurants building out into streets.

By mid-April, Forbes found itself using the phrase ‘tactical urbanism’ in an article about New Zealand’s excellent programme of new funding for bike lanes and widened sidewalks. (Important caveat: tactical urbanism is not enough, as discussed for years; but it is an important way of unlocking ‘start by starting’, and when backed by a strategic impulse, and national government, it can transform into strategic urbanism.)

“To me, [tactical urbanism is] about moving away from an approach in transport engineering that has often been very theoretical, and relied on models or inappropriate standards, to a more agile and empirical approach. We can trial things in a low-cost way and make that part of the consultation, so people and businesses can experience what it is like, and make that experience and real-life data gathering part of the consultation to better inform decision making.”

The impact of reduced traffic was estimated to be saving California around $40m per day, in reduced health costs due to reduced traffic accidents. However, as Tom Vanderbilt points out, “Unsurprisingly, the dearth of drivers in Los Angeles and New York City at the moment has led to increases in speeding. Because so few people are driving, the number of motor-vehicle crashes has dropped during the lockdown … but it could fall still lower if drivers stopped using the pandemic as a license to step on the gas.”

The increases in bike lanes mentioned earlier are mirrored in the increase in cycling generally. UK bike shops report a high increase in demand. Bikes are seen as part of the UK green economy, with repair vouchers issued. The government plans a £250m boost for cycle lanes, and fast-tracks their e-scooter trials. London’s health care workers were given free access to the city’s share bike scheme to help them get safely to work.

The UK is making an Active Transport Agency, dedicated to walking and cycling. In Mumbai has appointed cycle councillors to all 24 civic wards.

In the USA, e-bike sales boom. CityLab reports on these various bike lane improvements, but also the role of the bike in enabling key workers to get to work, when public transport and car use is down.

Melbourne transport planner, cartographer and former city councillor, Philip Mallis offered to help Melburnians plan their bike trips.

“According to a recent survey, nearly two thirds of Tokyo-based companies now allow their employees to commute by bicycle, up from 26 per cent in February. The reason for the past reluctance? Big corporations have traditionally cited safety concerns about their employees cycling to the office: workers are much less likely to have an accident on public transport than when on a bike in busy traffic. The lack of cycle lanes in the capital has long been a headache but Tokyo’s metropolitan government had already planned to double the length of its lane network from 112km in 2011 to 221km by the end of this year and was eager to continue expanding the cycling infrastructure next year. Now the pandemic might further accelerate that move to a healthier and greener urban lifestyle.” — Monocle

(Reminder: “The interests of cyclists are identical with the interests of other groups who are deeply concerned about the quality of life in cities and suburbs.” — Jane Jacobs, 1985)

During all this Samuel Nello-Deakin writes a paper in the Journal of Transport Geography noting that we don’t really need any more research into how to promote cycling. In fact, the ongoing questioning by some researchers may now be utterly counter-productive, sowing doubt where there isn’t any (and is possibly only self-serving in terms of gaining further research funding.) The evidence is more than plentiful enough.

“Like in the example of smoking and cancer, the finding that cycling infrastructure and traffic calming measures are conducive to cycling has simply been replicated enough times to definitively prove its validity.” — Samuel Nello-Deakin, ‘Environmental determinants of cycling: Not seeing the forest for the trees?’, Journal of Transport Geography, Vol 85, May 2020

He suggests the research we need is not about how to promote cycling — again, that’s easy at a basic level: it’s cycling infrastructure and traffic calming — but rather, how to more fundamentally ‘evaporate’ motor vehicle traffic, such that we can provide more road space for cyclists at the cost of motorized traffic.

“At present, I would venture that the issue of traffic evaporation holds enough policy-relevant questions and methodological challenges to keep existing “cycling researchers” of various persuasions — from epidemiologists to urban geographers — busy for at least another decade. In what ways, for instance, do traffic evaporation rates depend on local context? What kind of time lags should we expect between road closures and traffic evaporation? What is the likely cumulative effect of multiple road closures? But equally importantly, what are the implications of traffic evaporation for social equity and spatial justice?” — Samuel Nello-Deakin, ‘Environmental determinants of cycling: Not seeing the forest for the trees?’, Journal of Transport Geography, Vol 85, May 2020

Tom Vanderbilt, one of our best writers on urban mobility, summarises the shift for many cities and citizens, enabling us to glimpse the impact of what cars have done to us (akin to ‘the A/B test’ I described previously).

“When the lockdown eases, pedestrians will still need to give one another a wider berth than they did before the pandemic, and they deserve to be accommodated somehow. Before all the cars come back, we can start working on the gaps in everyday livability that have been exposed by the coronavirus — and today’s livability is tomorrow’s resilience.” — Tom Vanderbilt, ‘The Pandemic Shows What Cars Have Done to Cities’, The Atlantic

National Geographic reported that “your daily commute won’t ever be the same”, which ought to be heartening to the vast majority of people who find the commute to be the least favourite activity of all activities.)

Those who have been advocating for public space for years—such as Project for Public Spaces, Gehl Architects, or muf, to choose three different kinds of advocate—all find possibilities that a revaluing and shaping of public space can occur.

University of Amsterdam research tracked how attitudes about commuting had changed during the pandemic, indicating high potential for moving away from car-based commutes — and perhaps a longing for bike-based commuting (Survey is of 1014 people, of whom roughly half lived in the Netherlands, with the rest split between France, Germany, the U.K. and the United States. although evenly split by gender, around 70% of respondents had a master’s degree or higher, and thus not broadly representative.)

“About 69% of respondents said that they missed some element of their commute, but their answers varied dramatically depending on how — and how long — they traveled: The longer it took to get to their jobs, the less people missed it. While 55% of car commuters said that they didn’t miss their work journeys at all, 91% of bike commuters said that they miss at least some parts of theirs.”

In the UK, however, there are also mixed messages early on. This is hardly surprising, as the only consistent aspect of the UK government’s messaging has been its inconsistency. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, will have caused significant long-term damage with careless statements like:

“If people have access to a car, we urge them to use the car, before they consider public transport.

I say significant damage as this was the opportunity to move people away from cars, a much greater longer-term threat than COVID-19. It’s hard to imagine how a transport secretary, in the 21st century, can make such a statement—even given the context of a pandemic. Again, a rather more informed transport leader, New York’s ex-head of transport, Janette Sadik-Khan, said:

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a fresh look at your streets and make sure that they are set to achieve the outcomes that we want to achieve: not just moving cars as fast as possible from point A to point B, but making it possible for everyone to get around safely.” — Janette Sadik-Khan

Spot the difference. The cities listed above, including some British ones, were quickly taking the opportunity to remodel around bikes and walking. Shapps was stating the opposite. His statement around public transport was not based on data but gut instinct, and perhaps fear. (Quite quickly, evidence started emerging from Japan and France indicating that public transport was not a super-spreader it was feared to be.) Shapps bungled the messaging, ignoring that “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and backing the only vehicle with the long-term significant track record of damage, the car.

Then, the UK environment secretary, George Eustice, clearly heard his colleague’s statement and thought he could go one better, by adding the option of a drive-thru McDonalds to the mix. Can we imagine a greater public health hazard than encouraging a pattern of drive-thru McDonalds?

Of course, given this is the United Kingdom government of 2020, the Environment Secretary’s voting record shows that he has generally voted against measures to reduce climate change. That’s the Environment Secretary. It would certainly be beneficial, however, if the UK had an environment secretary did not feel it necessary to promote drive-through fast-food restaurants as an ideal solution for our times. He’s conjured a perfect storm of health and environment damage in about four words.

A rather more informed transport planner, Jarrett Walker, has been his usual voice of reason throughout all this. Early on, he wrote a powerful piece about the value of public transport; that it “makes urban civilization possible”. This was important at the time as, despite incredibly unhelpful misinformation throughout the initial months of the pandemic, public transport is not proving to be not problematic in terms of infection.

Possibility of mode shift by flattening the curve on cars, described in Slowdown Paper 10: Another Green World

In May, Walker wrote a more analytical piece backing up the kind of flattening I, and many others, envisaged; in this case, flattening the typical ‘peak hour’ curves of transport into the city. Again, this is the kind of curve that Shapp’s statements would bend in precisely the wrong direction. Walker indicates the value in public transport, backed by cycling and walking, that oh-so-simple formula for cities, and how the virus gives us a chance to sustain this flattened curve.

“The fall of the peak, if it were sustained into the future, could be great news.”—Jarrett Walker

That did not happen. Traffic bounced back, and in some cases has increased. Even by mid-May, as the first cities began to leave the first lockdowns, peak rush-hour traffic in Shenzhen was roughly 10% over its 2019 baseline, while congestion in Auckland, New Zealand, was creeping up. In North America, demand for petrol was already rising as cars began to claim back the streets where they could. Mass transit ridership remained low in the USA, and still has not recovered. In Jeddah, cinemas quickly become drive-in cinemas; likewise Berlin, with a drive-in cinema dubbed Carrona.

During the early months of the pandemic, UK car manufacturing declined to levels last seen in 1954. Globally, research into the Asian market by Nomura, looking for a positive spin on manufacturing, nonethless noted “In March and April this year, we saw a reduction in global car sales (with the exception of China) by 39% and 40% respectively. This has, by far, been the biggest drop we have seen, even compared to the global financial crisis in 2008.” Happily, new cars were not selling for some time in the US and elsewhere, though there was a subsequent bounce back in some markets—and then we find that Americans are buying used cars en masse, eager to avoid public transport (for no good reason.)

In the early days of the virus, however, the impact of clear streets was quite discernible, even if in some instances, removing congestion simply created another problem:

“Deaths on French roads dropped by just under 56% during April compared with the same month last year. This is hardly surprising as everyone was locked down, but police records suggested those who were on the empty roads drove faster. The drop in road deaths explains why some departements saw fewer deaths even during the coronavirus crisis.” — The Local

A drop in road deaths of 56% is extraordinary; yet without doing this intentionally, we can see that traffic speed merely increases for those car drivers who remain on the roads, a point also made by Tom Vanderbilt observing New York and Los Angeles.

“Wide lanes, typically intended as a safety mechanism, simply encourage drivers to step on the gas. Unsurprisingly, the dearth of drivers in Los Angeles and New York City at the moment has led to increases in speeding. Because so few people are driving, the number of motor-vehicle crashes has dropped during the lockdown — saving California alone $40 million a day, according to one study — but it could fall still lower if drivers stopped using the pandemic as a license to step on the gas.”—Tom Vanderbilt, ‘The Pandemic Shows What Cars Have Done to Cities’, The Atlantic, 24 April 2020

The answer, which is understood by most in the sector (if not often coherently communicated), lies in both radically slowing down streets and reducing the total number of motor vehicles (electric cars not being a viable replacement option for numerous reasons.)

Of course as many discussed, such slow streets already exist (e.g. Netherlands) with decades of data, know-how, and culture behind them. There are absolutely no major technical questions, doubts, or stumbling blocks as to what to do about streets. Slow, green, humane, safe, diverse , nurturing, generative, designed with 8 year olds or 80 year olds— it doesn’t matter how you dress it up, the answers at the infrastructural level are effectively the same, everywhere. They all imply reduced car and other motor vehicle traffic, and more space for human and nonhuman life. The only questions, for this layer, are ‘when?’ and ‘who’s in?’ The strategy we use with my various teams, on numerous projects, was simply to motivate people to get going, to take the first step, not try to guess the last one: what I called ‘start by starting’.

The evidence from all over the world is utterly consistent. The impact data producing the value case increases every day, across almost every meaningful arena. So with that start by starting impulse in mind, it was incredibly heartening to see cities all over the world beginning to take those first steps — this is a decent early summary. However, as I’ll discuss later, even these first steps need to be carefully considered—who does this rebuilding, and how?—and the steps after that will need to be more considered again.

Addendum: many of these COVID-related mobility proposals started to be tracked more coherently by the COVID Mobility Works collaboration. This provides a fantastically useful guide to much of the action happening globally. Many thanks to the various non-profits involved.


Early on in the pandemic, parks were rapidly closed in many places. In Italy, the national health ministry closed all parks and public gardens. The UK threatened to follow suit, which Edwin Heathcote addressed in his Financial Times article ‘Closing parks when they’re needed most is especially cruel’. Heathcote noted that “it might seem curious that in a pandemic, dense cities are closing their parks, forbidding entry and policing their use in doing exactly what they were intended for before going on to indicate how parks have always been a lightening rod for debates over power.

Jo Russell-Clarke, for the excellent Foreground journal, assessed the situation in Australia, noting:

“There is general acknowledgement of the vital need for outdoor exercise and exposure to nature for health and wellbeing. A pandemic could be the perfect time to discover — or rediscover — the riches of open spaces. However, the fear of virus transmission between humans, and lack of adherence to maintaining physical distance, is driving authorities toward total lockdown.”

Taking a far longer perspective, at Places Journal, a great article addressed a history of how Swedish public parks were entirely entwined with the emergence of social democratic politics — and how these parks, and their contemporary equivalent, continue to reveal broader patterns today (including in Sweden). The authors don’t address the pandemic much; more the broader patterns of development that produce the pandemic, alongside the climate crisis and crushing inequality. They describe how the park, and related public assets like the People’s Houses buildings that emerged in tandem, work well when given a coherent overlay of politics, culture, and space. If any one of these elements is missing, or sub-standard, the cards tumble. Sweden’s drift towards neoliberalism — far less pronounced of course than the US, UK, or Australia, but by its own standards, quite severe — has meant most of these civic spaces are now conference centres. The parks persist, but have long since lost their political function.

(L) Vällingby, in suburban Stockholm, a post-war new town built by the Social Democrats. Photo by Erik Liljeroth (1964). I wrote about Vällingby in Slowdown Paper 16. From Lockdown to Slowdown: Neighbourhood-City-Country (R) The Far i hatten (Father in the Hat) was the first restaurant in the Malmö People’s Park (circa 1890–1900) Both photos from ‘Parks and Houses for the People’, Places Journal, 2020

“Alas, just when we most needed these spaces for the people, they’d been turned into conference centers. Such strategic misdirections are worth taking to heart as the neoliberal consensus is being challenged around the globe and as democratic socialism is once again on the agenda — and as the immediate new realities of social distancing make us realize the immeasurable value of collective solidarity and public assembly.” — Johan Pries, Erik Jönsson and Don Mitchell

Kurt Ivesen, of University of Sydney, also writes a cautionary piece about the impact of temporary public space restrictions under lockdown conditions, and their impact on already vulnerable Australian parks and public spaces, particularly for already vulnerable populations.

“But access to public spaces was already significantly and unjustly restricted for many people before the coronavirus pandemic. Current restrictions could both intensify existing inequalities in access and reinforce trends towards “locking down” public space … For example, over the past decade we have seen a creeping “gating” of a public spaces like parks and school ovals. Free access to those spaces has been greatly reduced when they are not in use for organised education or sports.” — Kurt Ivesen, ‘Public space restrictions hurt vulnerable populations the most’, Foreground, 22 April 2020

His warning note that “We must guard against a common tendency for temporary measures to become more permanent” is clearly sound advice — meaning we need a critical eye on potentially positive temporary measures, whilst guarding against the many negatives in play in the early months of the virus.

A lovely piece by Shannon Mattern for the Harun Farocki Institut describes the ‘scalar logics of COVID’, with the parks as a counterpoint to the grids of our life elsewhere — yet in those early days, those parks were also overlaid with the grid of social distancing (formally or informally.)

“Online, we reside in grids, too: chat boxes and Zoom windows. On our rare ventures outdoors, we interact with the bodega clerk through an ad hoc plastic screen. We lean out our windows in nightly noisemaking celebration to perform our publicness. Our streets are barren, but on sunny spring days, our parks are packed with bodies repelled by one another, pushed apart as if by polar magnetic forces.” — Shannon Mattern

Domino Park in Brooklyn, New York

In the UK, many parks closed their gates in the early days, and for a moment there was a threat to close them across the country, as part of the initial lockdown. The broader context of parks, and physical exercise in, the UK, is put well by Guardian sports writer Barney Ronay, where he notes that “Public Health England’s paper states that “physical inactivity is responsible for one in six UK deaths and is estimated to cost the UK £7.4bn annually”. He asks “Do we really want to be a nation that bans exercise before it bans smoking and the sale of tobacco?”

Yet in the end, British parks managed to largely stay open or reopen relatively quickly, as the broader public health messages kicked in.

“What they’ve always said so far is that the health benefits for the whole of society of keeping the parks and the playgrounds open if we possibly can outweigh the epidemiological value of closing them.” — Boris Johnson

The prime minister’s use of the word “always” there is typically disingenuous. The Heritage Lottery Fund ‘State of UK Public Parks 2016’ found that 92% of park managers had reported cuts to their revenue and maintenance budgets over the last three years, with 95% expecting it to be cut further over the next three years, and the number of park staff continuing to be cut. In Lucy Jones’s book Losing Eden (2020) she notes, “Bristol city council announced that spending on parks would be cut to zero in 2019. Newcastle council has cut its park budget by 90% over seven years.” All of these cuts were under Conservative governments, under the cover of their ‘austerity policies’.

“It is clear that there is a growing deficit between the rising use of parks and the declining resources that are available to manage them.” — Heritage Lottery Fund ‘State of UK Public Parks 2016’

Johnson’s reversal on parks is up there with his reversal on face coverings.

As many parks quickly reopened in the UK, and with lockdown meaning people were desperate for fresh air and greenery for an hour a day, that brought new issues. The shredded social fabric in the UK means that ‘lockdown parks’ quickly became problematic; Wired wrote that ‘Lockdown has turned our parks into urine-soaked hellholes.’ (This is against the backdrop of a so-called ‘littering epidemic’ in the UK over recent years.)

Photographs of UK parkgoers by Sophia Spring. ‘Sanctuary in the city: how urban parks saved our summer’, The Observer, 9 August 2020

Yet many people also picked up the litter of others, and there was a sense that British people were rediscovering their parks—perhaps particularly as they were not able to escape to the greenery of other countries.

“It has been amazing,” says David Jamieson, parks manager at Edinburgh city council. “Parks have become living rooms, with people bringing chairs and sitting around. There has been real love — if that’s not too strong a word — for these public spaces and we’ve never received so many compliments and thanks for the work we do.”—‘Sanctuary in the city: how urban parks saved our summer’, Rachel Shabi, The Observer, 9 August 2020

Due to poor planning (and worse politics) many in the UK have little access to green space — and so parks are crucial. The exemplary National Park City project for London would be a powerful counterpoint to this, effectively flipping the idea of park inside-out, rendering it more of a pervasive condition of distrIbuted greenery and public space, rather than a particular place. This idea could be unpacked in many cities, such that green and blue is everywhere — every street, every corner, every balcony, everywhere. It should be more or less the first thing we build around. That simple idea could be one of the more radical, ultimately.

In Sweden, with the Swedish version of the lockdown (the ‘Svockdown’ enabling free movement of people, within sensible limits) people flocked to parks and green spaces. This graph, based on Google mobile data, indicated that park-going was the pre-eminent activity, in fact (and conversely, considerably down in other countries, save Germany.) This reflects the broader (and controversial) Swedish perspective on public health, trying to balance a more holistic approach to the population’s health and wellbeing — more time spent outside, walking, getting sun and fresh air, with park-going up 40% in Stockholm and 60–80% nationwide — whilst controlling the spread of the virus.

Activities by country under lockdown/svockdown conditions, data from April 2020

A remarkable and concise paper — check the title: ‘Covid-19: A tocsin to our ageing, unfit, corpulent, and immunodeficient society’ — by David C Nieman in Journal of Sport and Health Science.

Nieman helped to establish that regular moderate exercise lowers upper respiratory tract infection rates while improving immunosurveillance. He makes an important point that addressing Covid-19 cannot simply be about physical distancing, washing hands and covering faces, but “regular moderate-intensity physical activity”, too.

“Similar to 30–60min of near-daily brisk walking improves overall surveillance against pathogens by stimulating the ongoing exchange of important types of white blood cells between the circulation and tissues …. regular moderate-intensity physical activity improves immunosurveillance against pathogens and reduces morbidity and mortality from viral infection and respiratory illnesses including the common cold, pneumonia, and influenza. The odds are high that infectious disease pandemics spawned by novel pathogens will continue to inflict morbidity and mortality as the world’s population becomes older and more obese. COVID-19 is indeed a wake-up call, a tocsin, to the world that primary prevention countermeasures focused on health behaviors and hygiene demand our full attention and support.” — David C Nieman, Journal of Sport and Health Science (emphasis added)

Typically, this emphasis on exercise — and its necessary environmental supports, of safer, cleaner, more enjoyable streets and spaces — is lost amidst the noise about re-opening, whether schools or workplaces. The emphasis is usually on washing hands, aircon, and temperature checks, rather than emphasising green and clean spaces and regular physical exercise. Some note the potential for more active commuting in the context of children’s return to school (which again would produce co-benefits all round) but most do not even think of it.

The value and experience of the daily walk is well known. Many may have discovered, or rediscovered, this during the pandemic. Kahnemann and many others have detailed the value of walking, generally (my ex-colleague at Arup, Susan Claris, has done exemplary work here too, for years). But Michael Sorkin, typically, finds a broader, higher plane to position the value of walking upon:

“Walking is a natural armature for thinking sequentially. It also has a historic relationship to mental organisation that ranges from the Peripatetics, to the philosophers of Kyoto, to the clockwork circuit of Immanuel Kant, to the sublimities of the English Romantics and their passages through nature.” — Michael Sorkin, 20 minutes in Manhattan

Walking in Kyoto

(Sorkin’s book 20 minutes in Manhattan, about his typical daily engagement with his neighbourhood—but so much more—has been a companion for me throughout the first part of 2020. Each page underscores what a loss he is, but also how prescient and inspiring he continues to be.)

There are many accounts of people walking more, running more, and perhaps even talking with their neighbours more. Yet this is highly variable, no doubt, and there is solid evidence produced to suggest that this may not be the case at all.

“Physical activity was reduced by 32.3% among previously active participants but largely unchanged among previously inactive participants. No longer being active and increased screen time following COVID-19-related restrictions were associated with worse current mental health. Self-isolation/quarantine was associated with higher depressive and anxiety symptoms compared to social distancing.” — Meyer, J., McDowell, C., Lansing, J., Brower, C., Smith, L., Tully, M., & Herring, M. (2020). Changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviour due to the COVID-19 outbreak and associations with mental health in 3,052 US adults. Cambridge Open Engage.


British Airways suspended 36,000 staff early in the pandemic, which leads ultimately to 12,000 job losses. Overall, passenger flights decreased by up to 95%. Qantas records its to declare its worst financial result for a century: a $2bn loss. It’s estimated Ryanair will endure losses of €185m, due to a 99% drop in passengers. In April, the Airbus chief executive was “warning it would take three to five years for passengers to be as willing to fly as before the crisis.” This assumes that the aviation industry ought to “fly as before”, of course.

In April, analysis by the Financial Times suggested that “aeroplane emissions fell by almost a third last month as the coronavirus lockdown grounded flights around the world, a drop in emissions equivalent of taking about 6m cars off the road … as much as 28m fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted in March as nearly 1m flights were cancelled globally. This is equivalent to a month of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions and constitutes a drop of 31 per cent from the comparable period last year.”

Back in May, estimates by the International Air Transport Association suggested that only 30 of more than 700 airlines will survive the next few months without government intervention—which also assumed that governments should intervene. Job losses at airlines like Qantas indicate the potential structural impact. The repercussions for related industries will be equally structural. John Harris has a powerful article on the impact of job losses in the aerospace industry across several Welsh towns.

“Insisting on speaking anonymously, three men from the Llantrisant plant — which sees to avionics, the electronic aspects of aviation — also talk about the local context for what is happening: job markets stripped of opportunities, and a complete lack of any comparable work. If they are made redundant, what are their options? “Driving for Amazon or Tesco,” says one. “Working in Lidl or Morrisons,” offers another.” — ‘Devastation’: how aviation industry’s Covid crisis is hitting towns across UK’, John Harris, The Guardian, 24 August 2020

It is certainly not inevitable that these workers should give up meaningful work for the precarious unfulfilling employment offered by Amazon or Lidl. The UK government is allowing this to be so, given its ideological aversion to manoeuvering around state aid. (And what, after all, is the state supposed to do if not ‘aid’? This is another example of how our language has been battered into unhelpful shapes.)

A Unite union protest in Bridgend. Photograph: Gareth Phillips/The Guardian

Yet for all the talk of a drive towards low-emission aviation in Harris’s article, if these jobs were firmly situated in a plausible sustainable future of aviation, they would be secure. That they are under threat indicates that, in reality, they are not in the future of aviation, almost by definition. The aeronatics industry will need restructuring around an aviation sector that flies within planetary boundaries, which is not currently the case at all. (Similarly, previous generations of Welsh workers need not have suffered when the coal mines absolutely needed to close — for environmental reasons, rather than economic.)

“For people making the case for state intervention, this represents something very significant. The aerospace giants themselves emphasise their work on cleaner, lighter planes, and the possibility of carbon-neutral flight; trade unionists and politicians point out that if we want any kind of green transition, making engineers unemployed is hardly the way to go about it.” — ‘Devastation’: how aviation industry’s Covid crisis is hitting towns across UK’, John Harris, The Guardian, 24 August 2020

Aviation is something of a minority pursuit, in reality; perhaps less than 20% of people on the planet have ever flown at all. Yet tot up the environmental degradation that the sector produces; not least the sheer amount of land, carbon, and energy devoted to airports, in otherwise valuable agricultural land close to cities. That aviation sector has to diminish, just as coal mining did, but those Welsh workers should not have diminished lives either way. These are the complex shared decisions we have to actively take. Retain a few of those engineers as low-emissions aviation specialists; but deploy the majority into more genuinely green deal sectors. As Harris’s article implicitly suggests — though he perhaps ought to face this directly — we will need a just transition in the aviation sector, but just as importantly, a just transition in those Welsh towns.

Things that can be done with aeroplanes — 747 Wing House, Arizona, by David Hertz Architects

A simpler way to achieve a low-emission aviation sector is to note that there may not be that much aviation in future. Many will have chosen never to fly again (LiteraryHub has a rewarding discussion between writers Lydia Davis and Johanne Fronth-Nygren about this.)

“Of course flying is just the tip of the iceberg of global inequality, but I think it’s a good place to start making changes, because it affects both the concrete level of emissions, and the dangerous sense of entitlement and detachment that the wealthiest part of the world treats the rest with. Most estimates I’ve read say that only 5 to 12 percent* of the people alive today have been on a plane. The majority of air travel is undertaken by a mere 2 percent of the world’s population.” — Johanne Fronth-Nygren (* Difficult to calculate but this research suggests ~18%)

(This article suggests the richest 10% account for 60% of all flights purchased, alongside other good data on the impact of flying.) Other estimates suggest that 60–70% of aviation is business travel.

“Business travel in July was down 97% from a year earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported, and an estimated $2 trillion in corporate travel will not happen this year. Last week, American Airlines said it will eliminate service to 15 cities in October, thus reducing its flying capacity by 55%, and that, unless it receives additional bailout cash from the government, it will furlough and lay off some 19,000 workers, about a third of its staff. Delta says it will furlough 1,941 pilots if it can’t get more money as well. In August, Virgin Atlantic outright filed for bankruptcy. In the longer term, current and former airline executives say the shift in office culture to Zoom means the decline in corporate passengers is likely to be permanent.”— Steve LeVine, ‘Remote Work Is Killing the Hidden Trillion-Dollar Office Economy’, 2 September 2020

Given this, MIT economists David Autor and Elizabeth Reynolds suggest that telepresence shifting work patterns will completely “upend” aviation. This transition may restructure work in those Welsh towns, whilst achieving lower emissions, far more effectively than any number of sustainable aviation programmes. Again, the future of those Welsh workers ought to be more important than the future of the aviation sector. The diminishing of the latter need not be a weight around the ankle of the former, dragging it under the water.


By July UK tourist hot-spots were apparently ‘ghost towns’. Some researchers suggest that, if Britain could stop its love-affair with overseas holidays, the coronavirus would disappears. In Japan, this lessened impact of tourism, and their snacks, has improved the digestive health of the famous deer at Nara.

European cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam had long been complaining about the deleterious impact of tourism on their cities. Venice had perhaps forgotten how to do so, with its local economy so utterly dependent that few other options seemed available (though having lived in its neighbour Treviso for a couple of years, I knew several in almost ‘underground’ Venetian movements who are working to reposition the city as a place of production, outside of tourism/consumption. There are footholds there.) Cities like Prague had become shadows of the places that made them attractive in the first place, yet seemed caught in the double-bind of the tourist economy.

Photographs by Paola de Grenet, from ‘How tourism is killing Barcelona — a photo essay’, The Guardian, 30 August 2018

So it was interesting to read, quite early on, that these cities were looking for another ‘curve beyond the curve’ when it came to tourism. Barbora Hrubá, of the Prague tourist agency wants a “different type of visitor”. Xavier Marcé, the Barcelona councillor responsible for tourism, said: “I don’t want more tourists, I want more visitors.” Paola Mar, his counterpart in Venice, said “We’re a city in crisis and are trying to do something different.” Heleen Jansen, corporate communications coordinator at amsterdam&partners, said “We want to have a sustainable visitor economy that doesn’t harm the liveability of our city.” (All these quotes from this good overview at The Guardian.)

The subtle shift to ‘visitors’ rather than ‘tourists’ is unexplored, of course. (Are ‘visitors’ just ‘nicer’ versions of ‘tourists’? Or does it imply there are fewer of them? Or are they simply richer?) It could imply that tourism becomes something of privilege, rather than a mass experience. When Paola Mar, a Venetian councillor for tourism, says a different kind of tourism, some alarm bells ring:

“Tourism will be completely different. Not everyone will travel like they used to. And those who do travel may want to do so in a calmer way, maybe they will see less but enjoy the experience more.”—Paola Mar

Whilst that sounds perfectly agreeable, that outcome could almost be equally problematic, if it means cities like Venice only being experienced by a privileged elite, a return to the Grand Tour of Death in Venice and Brideshead Revisited. Somehow we have to balance an open experience of Venice (and Barcelona, Amsterdam, Prague, Kyoto …) to diverse visitors, whilst mitigating the fatal damage caused by opening the floodgates. Get this wrong on either side of the knife-edge, and we slide into either an exclusionary privileged position, which may preserve the city but only as a museum (which may also be unsustainable in the end), or we continue to destroy the city, and the environs all around (for those cheap flights do not kindly limit their damage to the runway at Aeroporto Marco Polo.)

Paola Mar continues, “This is a time for reflection … Owners of property that was rented to tourists have signed an agreement with the council and Venice’s universities to now rent to students. It’s a good sign.” Indeed, that manoeuvre may be part of the rebalancing—from tourists to students—that would help somewhat in a more diverse economy, even if student accommodation is hardly the most resilient ‘market’ at the moment. It’s a start. More diverse again would include more affordable housing for more diverse forms of work and culture.

Generally, however, the narrative around tourism under the pandemic remains one of ‘it’s a giant hole in the local economy we don’t know how to fill’, whilst recognising that the previously pre-virus model was entirely broken. This narrative, of course, is the one in place in many (most?) or our other sectors vis-a-vis the climate, health, and social justice crises.

And other visions are available, as they say, such as those in the excellent If Venice Dies, by Salvatore Settis (2014), who writes:

“Saving the historic city in Venice (and elsewhere) won’t happen simply by reviving memories of the city’s past or indulging in the pleasures of the present. Even protesting won’t be enough: the only effective move will be reenenergizing the active practice of citizenship and exercising the right to the city, to then come up with a plan to preserve its uniqueness and put firm rules into place that not only safeguard its framework and environment, but also prioritize the city’s use-value over its exchange-value, emphasizing the social function of property, the right of its citizens to gainful employment, and the right of its youngest to both a home and a future.”—Salvatore Settis, ‘If Venice Dies’ (2014)

Salvatore Settis, ‘If Venice Dies’ (2014)

John Thackara gave an excellent talk on alternatives to tourism at the Rethinking Tourism symposium, which gives many different starting points and examples—but it’s fair to say these ideas sadly remain a long way from the mainstream, despite another ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to start again here too.

By August, in Barcelona (which tends to embody many of these issues, whether the impact of Airbnb or tourism-oriented urbanism more broadly), only around a fifth of hotels have reopened since the lockdown ended in June (partly due to oscillating ‘air corridors’ with ‘feeder countries’ like the UK and France.)

(The word ‘corridor’ is originally derived from a verb, or perhaps a person’s role, rather than a simple noun for a building element: it’s from the Italian corridore, meaning originally ‘runner’ (from correre ‘to run’, from Latin currere) which then became corridoio ‘running place’, describing a channel or route through or around a castle. A corridor is about communication, about messaging, rather than static form. It’s tempting to think through the messages implied by so much focus on the viability, transcience and direction of ‘air corridor’ which seems to core to the debates on tourism, particularly over the Northern summer holiday months of course)

Last year, Catalonia attracted 19.3 million visitors from overseas, almost half of them from France, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. In early August, all of these countries were advising against travel to Spain, due to the reemergence of the virus. In Barcelona, 90% of restaurant owners are having difficulty paying the rent and 38% of bars and restaurants expect to close permanently once furlough payments end on 30 September.

Ferran Barenblit, director of MACBA, said: “Nothing is going to be like it was before. There’s been a lot of damage done. We’ve got less money and we have to rethink many things.” Yet is the rethinking happening on the scale it needs to? These numbers—down 50%, 90% struggling to pay rent—are enormous, particularly given how tight the margins were in all these sectors under ‘normal’ conditions. So perhaps the thesis ought to recognise the broader context i.e. “Yes, there was a lot of damage done”—but not due to the virus. Barcelona, with 1.6 million residents receiving 32 million tourists per year, was already in locked in an unsustainable battle with tourism.

Anti-tourist demonstration in Barcelona, 2011. Photo by Oh-Barcelona

There will be “less money”—but more value, spread more evenly. For an institution like MACBA to fully rely on tourism would be as short-sighted as the entire city of Venice effectively becoming a museum, denying alternate histories and futures. This is rethinking we were going to have to do anyway; the message of the virus, circulating along those air corridors, is that we have to figure it more rapidly.

Images of tourist destinations before and during the pandemic: from top, Prague (Charles Bridge), Barcelona (Las Ramblas), Venice (St Marks) and the waters off St Marks. From ‘How coronavirus is reshaping Europe’s tourism hotspots’, 20 July 2020

In all of this, the value of the genuinely local, the ‘down to earth’ as Latour puts it, will play a far greater role. A very different form of tourist appeared in many places over the summer: local people. The staycation—or in Swedish, hemester, combining hem (home) and semester (holiday)—has generally been a welcome form of tourism. Although, recalling the note about the UK’s shredded social fabric, not everywhere.

Lydia Davis, in conversation with Johanne Fronth-Nygren:

“It results in a greater concentration on the local, on valuing what is here. Once I am not expecting more and more, looking outward farther and farther, a circle is drawn around what I have, but within that circle there is more attention, I look deeper inside the circle, and what remains has greater value … That’s what amazes me, that we could be perfectly happy with much less, including much less stuff, stuff shipped from all over the world and delivered the next day, and we might save so much pain and suffering … People can be, and are, quite happy with simple things like playing games, making music, cooking together, dancing, just talking.”—Lydia Davis

I would wholeheartedly agree, for what it’s worth, but this message runs counter to that promoted and instituted for the last seven decades of the Acceleration era. Similarly, as with the issues around mass tourism, in other hands this plea for a simple life might smack of privilege—it’s easier to give things up if you are such a position—yet Davis is careful and thoughtful about the way she frames the imperative. Indy Johar turned me onto the book No Local recently, which shakes many cosy, naive notions about localism. Yet there is significant value in the small, local, and independent nonetheless.

What we currently have little idea about is how far and deep this thought, this way of living, has spread under COVID.


Also fairly early in the first waves, the RSA and YouGov produced one of the first mainstream surveys suggesting that ‘people did not want to go back to normal’. Their survey was an harbinger of many lockdown-related patterns backed by subsequent surveys; I won’t list them all here, as such surveys have become one of the more well-known stories of the pandemic.

The RSA survey was interesting, however, as it in the context of food. (‘The impact of Coronavirus on food behaviours and attitudes’, an online survey of 4343 adults in Great Britain conducted on 7th-9th April, YouGov.)

Food is always interesting in the context of systemic change, given it effortlessly combines culture, climate, health, migration, globalism, infrastructure, commerce, industry, and so on. It is both highly personal and highly political, and thus one of the productive arena for systems change work—and one of the more challenging as a result.

The survey, commissioned jointly by the RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and the Food Foundation, found that Covid-19 and the associated lockdown was “impacting on societal attitudes towards food, the environment, and day-to-day life in general. The poll finds a clear majority (85%) want to see at least some of changes they have experienced continue afterwards, while just 9% want a complete return to life exactly as it was before lockdown.”

It’s only a survey. Yet a mere 9% of adults wanted everything to go back to how it was before? And this was in the first awful bite of the virus? This was entirely counter politicians frequent, if empty, pledge to get things back to normal. Half the country was trying new food habits, many of them sustainable and healthy. They were spending less money, and reported that they were spending money more carefully and sustainably, as well as reducing waste. Most (51%) had noticed and valued the cleaner air outside.

RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and the Food Foundation

Further surveys largely substantiated this sense that this was, after Janette Sadik-Khan, a “once in a lifetime” chance to reset. The economy shutting down gave many a chance to change consumption habits. It perhaps provoked a sense of choice as to whether to buy, never mind what to buy, that had not . This of course was somehow described as frugality, even austerity, or “tightening the belt” — when really it is just not continually buying shit.

“It felt like I’d reclaimed the concept of choice from its current consumerist definition, where it merely describes the action of buying one product instead of another, and had restored choice, in this one very small instance, to what it used to be: a decision that carries meaning, a choice to do or not to do what one considers right.”—Johanne Fronth-Nygren in conversation with Lydia Davis

As the virus unfolded, and retail adapted—including a huge shift, proportionally, to online consumption, as we’ll see—those early ‘frugal’ patterns began to loosen, and the likes of EY proclaimed that “the desire for normality has been building” (probably hoping for this, as much as recording this, in their case.) Similarly, food waste in the UK started increasing again, having significantly reduced (even though overall levels are still lower than before the virus.) In August, Xi Jinping launched a new campaign targetting food waste, after their initial curve, saying “waste is shameful and thriftiness is honourable.”

As time goes on, it’s difficult to tell whether the resistance to ‘back to normal’ is being replaced by a firmer desire for any semblance of normality—certainly consumption is not the same, despite those in the industry attempting to wish back to life. Certainly, as with UK minister Grant Shapps’s unhelpful comments on cars, few in the political establishment seemed to have desire to promote reduced consumption.

By August, consumption in the UK at least, a nation of shopkeepers and shoppers, was almost back to pre-pandemic levels according to The Guardian. In particular, spending on homewares and home-related items had increased, though “over the three months to July, in-store sales of non-food items declined 29%, with clothing sales suffering most,” and Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, was quoted as saying “September would prove the real test for consumer spending and the strength of Britain’s economic recovery.” And no-one in UK government appeared to have any idea what to do about pubs.

“The release of pent up-demand in July fuelled a rise in food and drink spending in particular, according to both surveys, while spending in sports and outdoor stores rose sharply as the warm weather encouraged more people to spend time outside. Hairdressers, nail bars and beauty salons starting to reopen their doors after four months of enforced closure lifted spending, while furniture stores and electronics retailers reported their strongest figures this year. There were also positive signs for restaurants, pubs and bars, with overall declines of 64.2% and 43% respectively in July as more venues reopened — an improvement from declines of 86% and 93% in June, according to Barclaycard.”—Richard Partington, ‘UK consumer spending approaches levels last seen before coronavirus’, The Guardian, 11 August 2020

In Australia, the spending swung from services to retail, with electronics up 33.3%, hardware and garden supplies up 27.5%, homewares up 26.4%, whereas clothing and footwear has dropped, and car sales have “absolutely plummeted” (which is only ever a good thing, but hardly ever reported as such—and note also luxury car sales have increased in Australia.)

Book sales were expected to do well but haven’t, and nor has takeaway food. The interesting shift has been a large increase in savings, for a country (as with most Anglo-American economies) mired in personal debt.

“And after years and years of low wages and mounting debt, households are finally taking the chance to save up, or pay down some debts. “The savings rate has spiked, it has gone through the roof,” Youl says. “It dwindled from 10% to 5% over the decade to 2020. We’ve had weak wage growth since 2015, more households were entering into debt just to stay afloat. Now, the households savings ratio has risen to 19.8%, the highest since 1974.”

However, once restrictions are lifted, the analysts expect spending to swing back to swing it was in Australia.

““Households are willing to spend money if and when they can,” he says. “All these additional savings have accrued, not because households don’t want to spend money, the reality is they haven’t been able to. It’s not that there is not a willingness to spend, there is just not a place to spend.” – ‘The pandemic purse: services suffer while Australians spend up on home-cooking and liquor’, The Guardian, 12 September 2020

In April, clothing sales fell 79 percent in the United States, the largest dive on record. For places like London’s West End, and eight weeks after all shops were allowed to reopen in England after a three-month lockdown “footfall in London’s West End remains 63% down on 2019 levels (See also). As Mayor Sadik Khan noted, that is an “existential” threat. Those numbers are deadly in a tight margin business. By mid-August, Manhattan was still largely the same, if not worse. Again, the narrative that the virus was an accelerant, not a precipitant, was being applied to physical retail spaces.

“Simon Collins, former dean of fashion for the prestigious fashion college Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, said many of the big stores in New York had become tired and the coronavirus had just hastened their inevitable doom: “People want something new. They don’t want to see the same things they can get anywhere. Where’s the experience? Why wouldn’t you just buy that online?’”

By August, many articles started to emerge effectively questioning the very viability of Manhattan. (These may be overplayed—see later—but equally, there is clearly something to them, beyond the hyperbole.) For instance:

“Did you know that only 2500 people (out of eight million people in NYC) make up 40% of all the taxes that NYC collects and that this is the main income for NYC. Well, what happens if half those 2500, or even 1/10 of those 2500 are gone, precisely when expenses are going up?”—‘NYC is dead forever. Here’s why’, James Altucher, 14 August 2020

The virus

As was clear back in early April, to many of us at least, further reducing biodiversity is only likely to increase the likelihood of zoonotic diseases, and viruses like COVID-19, emerging.

“Hunting, farming and the global move of people to cities has led to massive declines in biodiversity and increased the risk of dangerous viruses like Covid-19 spilling over from animals to humans, a major study has concluded.”—John Vidal, ‘Human impact on wildlife to blame for spread of viruses, says study’, The Guardian, 19 April 2020

The study Vidal refers to was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Global shifts in mammalian population trends reveal key predictors of virus spillover risk’ (19 April 2020.)

The likes of Christine Kreuder Johnson, director of the EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics at the One Health Institute, UN biodiversity chief Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, and the US scientist Thomas Lovejoy pointed the finger at one end of this system (the wet markets and trade in wildlife). (This seems dangerously narrow to me; whilst no doubt a problematic trade, it provokes an overwhelming focus on, put bluntly, the Chinese end of the problem, at the expense of the bigger global picture in which we are all implicated, and equally ignores the other biodiversity loss, due to forestation, over-development etc. Others took a broader view, such as Dr. Amy Dickman who suggests “indiscriminate bans and restrictions risk being inequitable and ineffective.

Broader again: prevent zoonotic diseases by preserving ecosystems and restoring natural habitats can ensure animals don’t need to forage near where humans live”. This all relies on a better understanding of our biodiversity. This article, ‘Climate change is only half the problem. We’re destroying the Earth’s layer of life’, by Tamar Stelling for De Correspondent, is an excellent, and beautiful, guide to the patterns and proportions of the earth’s biodiversity, and how little we know about it. Further research revealed that we have seen a 10% decline in land-based insects, per decade, since 1925. And as I noted when discussing East Kolkata Wetlands, and the transplanting of ‘the kidneys of Kolkata’ in favour of non-diverse property development, significant biodiversity loss in natural infrastructures in Sierra Leone is also being recorded.

Overall, I’m drawn to Dennis Carroll’s view that the current outbreak was predictable, that we’ve become “oblivious to the conditions that have enabled zoonotic viruses to become integrated into us”, and that it is our broader patterns of development, linked to lifestyle choices, that have damaged biodiversity to the extent that ‘spillover’ zoonotic diseases are increasing in likelihood (again, as discussed in more detail in Slowdown Paper 4)

“We’re looking at an elevation of spillover events two to three times more than what we saw 40 years earlier. That continues to increase, driven by the huge increase in the human population and our expansion into wildlife areas. The single biggest predictor of spillover events is land-use change — more land going to agriculture and more specifically to livestock production.”—Kevin Berger, ‘The Man Who Saw the Pandemic Coming’, Nautilus, 12 March 2020

See also: study confirms deadly diseases from wildlife thrive when nature is destroyed (published in Nature in August 2020): “The research assessed nearly 7,000 animal communities on six continents and found that the conversion of wild places into farmland or settlements often wipes out larger species. It found that the damage benefits smaller, more adaptable creatures that also carry the most pathogens that can pass to humans.” Original research is here: Zoonotic host diversity increases in human-dominated ecosystems (Nature, 2020).

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued a statement reinforcing the necessary centrality of biodiversity to any COVID-19 responses. Yet you will do well to find this message high in the mix of any of the announcements. It’s easy to see why — trees can’t vote, nor lobby governments — but not correct.

“Responding to the COVID-19 crisis calls for us all to confront the vested interests that oppose transformative change, and to end ‘business as usual’. We can build back better and emerge from the current crisis stronger and more resilient than ever — but to do so means choosing policies and actions that protect nature — so that nature can help to protect us.” — Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio, and Dr. Peter Daszak (IPBES)

Similarly, in more academic terms, ‘Ecological interventions to prevent and manage zoonotic pathogen spillover’ (Nature, August 2019):

“Interventions that target the ecological context in which spillover occurs (i.e. ecological interventions) can complement conventional approaches like vaccination, treatment, disinfection and chemical control. Accelerating spillover owing to environmental change requires effective, affordable, durable and scalable solutions that fully harness the complex processes involved in cross-species pathogen spillover.”

Some related proposals were being committed to during the early stages of the pandemic. During May, the EU announced a plan for 3 billion trees in 10 years, to tackle the biodiversity crisis.

Yet again, looking at most government responses to the pandemic so far, it’s hard to see the trees, or the wood.

As well as preventing zoonotic diseases there are other reasons to ramp up biodiversity, perhaps closer to home for a lot of us. I’m investigating a lot of these relationships between our living environments and health and wellbeing, due to our various Vinnova activities in these areas. Zoe Myers produced a great overview for Foreground: Biodiversity and our brains: How ecology and mental health go together in our cities.

Still, in the short-term, the negative mental health impacts of the lockdown will be immense. An independent research report by Simetrica-Jacobs and the LSE, ‘The Wellbeing costs of Covid-19 in the UK’, calculates “an indicative monetary value for the total wellbeing cost to adults in the UK to be around £2.25bn per day, or around £43 per adult per day.” By August, research discovers that depression rates in the UK have doubled since the start of the pandemic, and by September, “stress, anxiety and depression levels soar under UK Covid-19 restrictions”.


Here, I’m working with Stockholm Region on their mental health and wellbeing strategy, as part of an international advisory board with others from UK, USA and Canada, and the prognosis across all these regions, including Sweden, is not good. The reasons for the impact are various, and complex, and stretch well beyond environmental context. They no doubt primarily centring on loss of work, income, security, and the sudden pressure-cooker of environment of families are learning and walking from homes not designed for that.

Yet this virus’s impact is nothing if not complex and uneven. Research at the University of Cambridge found that, “following a rise in negative emotions at the start of the pandemic, our working paper found that wellbeing improved once lockdowns began — though not consistently for all social groups.” This last point is obviously important; their research indicates “We found that about half of the total effect of the pandemic and lockdown is sociotropic, meaning that it affected everyone similarly. Of the remaining half, we found acute negative effects on the wellbeing of the elderly, professionals, those living alone and women. (my emphasis)

Graph from ‘Wellbeing levels fell during the pandemic but improved under lockdown, data analysis shows’, The Conversation, 30 July 2020


These complex patterns may be triggered by some of the environmental conditions of the lockdown. In the UK, the Quiet Project estimated that the lockdown “lowered urban noise by about five decibels, mostly because of absent traffic. That’s a 60% reduction.” As the New York Times reports, ‘Coronavirus Turns Urban Life’s Roar to Whisper On World’s Seismographs’. Further, ‘COVID-19 lockdown caused 50% global reduction in human-linked Earth vibrations,’ between March and May 2020. The New York Times produced a lovely, if melancholic, reflection on how the sound of the city has changed.

In Stockholm, researchers at the Marcus Wallenberg Laboratory for Sound and Vibration Research (MWL) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology found that their noise-monitoring projects triggered insights into how Swedes tended to dutifully observe the messaging about COVID-related slowdown from government (a theme I’ll pick up later, but also initially explored in Slowdown Paper 7: Cultures of decision-making in Sweden and beyond.) The research paper was reported on by The Local: ‘New research shows how Stockholm fell silent during coronavirus pandemic’, 11 September 2020

‘An observation of the impact of CoViD-19 recommendation measures monitored through urban noise levels in central Stockholm, Sweden’, Romain Rumpler. Siddharth Venkataraman, Peter Göransson, Sustainable Cities and Society, Volume 63, December 2020

“The data used are recorded during a campaign of over a full year of noise level measurements at a building façade situated in a busy urban intersection in central Stockholm, Sweden. The noise level reductions, observed during the period of restrictions, are shown to be comparable to those found for the two most popular public holidays in Sweden with a peak reduction occurring during the first half of April 2020. Contrary to what has been recently discussed in public media, the spread of the virus, the recommendations, and the restrictions imposed during the ongoing pandemic clearly have had a significant effect on the transport and other human-related activities in Stockholm.”—‘An observation of the impact of CoViD-19 recommendation measures monitored through urban noise levels in central Stockholm, Sweden’, Romain Rumpler. Siddharth Venkataraman, Peter Göransson, Sustainable Cities and Society, Volume 63, December 2020

An observation of the impact of CoViD-19 recommendation measures monitored through urban noise levels in central Stockholm, Sweden’, Romain Rumpler. Siddharth Venkataraman, Peter Göransson, Sustainable Cities and Society, Volume 63, December 2020

It’s interesting to see this considerable effect on noise, albeit measured at one spot. But note also that the noise level is shifting up back towards to what it was before, mirroring several of the other patterns here. Although the Swedish COVID outbreak is—at time of writing—very much under control, and the Svockdown (Swedish lockdown) was relatively gentle, graphs like these implicitly suggest the same question as with aviation and car traffic: what levels of noise should we encounter in cities? What did we think of the quiet? How did that affect our collective wellbeing? These questions cannot be answered with sensors.

As well as reduced noise, which we know has a largely positive impact on mental health (although noise-related benefits can also be highly subjective, and increased noise can also produce benefits), the shifting patterns in office space may also lead to reduced light pollution in cities, with benefits for wildlife. The positive impacts of these quieter, darker, greener cities are captured well in this article by Sarah Bekessey et al.

The artist Jenny Odell, writing in The Atlantic, notes the effect we have had on birds, for instance.

“Some birds in urban areas have ramped up nighttime singing in response to increased daytime noise, and birds living in loud places have shifted the pitch of their songs higher in order to be heard. Of course, behavioral flexibility can go only so far. In September 2019, Science published findings that North America had lost close to a third of its birds in the past 50 years. One of birds’ broadest responses to human behavior, it turns out, has been to vanish.”—Jenny Odell, ‘Why Birds Do What They Do’, The Atlantic, June 2020

Our thesis — which is backed by much existing research, of course — is that moving through and living in largely quieter, biodiverse, less polluted, prosocial and culturally active streets is likely to produce positive impacts. That discussion will be picked up later in this series.

Standing back to assess it, the casebook of cumulative impacts above is fairly extraordinary. It is six months’ worth of potentially transformational change, even though it is outlines the tip of an iceberg of stories, many thousands more datapoints and anecdotes triggered by the virus, far broader in range. Either way, the ongoing condition of living with COVID-19 is beginning to lock in significant behavioural change—from which structural change may emerge. Moving on from this logbook, the rest of the series will use further ‘cases’, though in the context of specific questions about this transformation.

It’s clear by now that the virus is an accelerant, not a precipitant. It is fast-forwarding challenges that have been lying in wait, shoving them firmly into the limelight without considered what it would mean to do so with conscious intent. With that in mind, we should consider a potentially broader, deeper transition that we are also immersed within arguably, a transition likely to have far more impact than the shock troops of COVID-19: the Slowdown.

Next: 22. Revisiting the Slowdown, and the end of the Great Acceleration
Previous: 20. Wait, what?
Intro to third batch:
19. The waters draw back, only to return
Intro to Slowdown Papers: 1. Writing the coronavirus to memory
Index: All Slowdown Papers are here


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: