City Shifts: Weekly News Roundup

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City Shifts is a recurring Blueprint series that rounds up the latest and greatest content from writers and publishers across the web. From decreased public transit ridership to pandemic-influenced startup innovation, these articles are sure to help you up your virtual water cooler conversation game.

1. Mass Transit Is in Jeopardy—and So Are Cities (Wired)

An empty NYC subway.
Source: Unsplash | Photographer: Kit Suman

In Brief

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has reported a 70-percent drop in day-to-day subway ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Big Apple’s transit system, which serves 40 percent of the nation’s public commuters, will need $12 billion in 2021 to offset the blows it has taken and continue functioning as usual, according to a Wired report by Aarian Marshall.

Why We Care

New York’s MTA is the nation’s public transit leader, and it’s certainly not the only transit authority across the country—or the world—that’s struggling to reconcile the financial costs of reduced ridership with the need to maintain services for city residents—in particular, low-income individuals.

Many of us rely on public transit for our daily commutes—even if the pandemic has adjusted that routine—but we could very well be met with drastic changes to public transit availability that compromise post-pandemic economic recovery and leave many Americans scrambling to find better commuting options.

For New York, the subways are iconic (in one way or another), and for all major metropolises, transit systems are a huge part of what makes them livable and workable. As the pandemic undermines their ability to operate efficiently, we are sure to see knock-on effects in our communities that may very well change the way our cities look and operate for years to come.

2. How COVID-19 Will Change Office Design (HuffPost)

Visually interesting office design.
Source: Unsplash | Photographer: Uneebo Office Desgin

In Brief

Has COVID-19 made modern workspace designs obsolete? This recent HuffPost video details the health implications of relying on air conditioning for indoor climate control, a model that allows aerosols—small droplets of particles dispersed in the air—to stay in the atmosphere for extended periods of time and potentially spread infection.

Why We Care

In our last City Shifts, we covered forthcoming updates to building HVAC systems that will ensure better air circulation in confined spaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses. But perhaps we also need to heed lessons from the past as we build healthier and safer places for our future.

On top of spread prevention, better indoor circulation has physical health benefits such as improving productivity and alertness. And as the world around office buildings adjusts to social distancing and hygiene hyper-awareness, so too must the buildings we spend most of our adult lives in.

3. The Future of Offices When Workers Have a Choice (New York Times)

A remote worker at his desk.
Source: Unsplash | Photographer: Luke Peters

In Brief

Now almost a year into work-from-home life, businesses are planning for where to house employees once offices reopen. But New York Times reporter Dror Poleg suggests workers will have agency in selecting their workspace, as 40 percent of employees in a recent survey said their in-office workplace did not enable them to work productively.

Why We Care

The pandemic has emptied office spaces in many metropolises and forced us to rethink how and where we work. Placing the choice of where to work in employees’ hands is sure to change the scope of urban and suburban living—if you don’t have to go into a downtown office tower, do the benefits still outweigh the costs of living in a city? According to Richard Florida, many families will opt to move to less-dense suburbs and smaller cities.

On the other hand, this could have drawbacks for the commercial real estate industry that rents out office spaces in downtown business districts, unless they find alternative uses (such as housing, e-commerce centers, and delivery-only kitchens, like NBRHD Kitchens) that can dampen the losses they’ve taken and will continue to take while offices are vacant.

4. The Big Question on Every Startup’s Mind for 2021 (Tech Crunch)

Books regarding the startup mindset.
Source: Unsplash | Photographer: Lala Azizli

In Brief

TechCrunch’s Natasha Mascarenhas highlights some startups that have used the pandemic as an opportunity for innovation, including Qualtrics, potential media industry game-changers Substack and Clubhouse, and a weeks-old investment app called EarlyBird.

Why We Care

Despite the void of in-person interaction we’re all experiencing, the pandemic has given people time to reflect, ideate, experiment, and collaborate, proving beneficial for many emerging businesses. Companies in the food, gaming, and at-home fitness industries are growing—an important reminder that the businesses that succeed and exceed expectations are often those most in tune with the current moment.

5. Worcester Planning Board Approves Site Plan for Amazon Last Mile Center on Greendale Mall Site (Telegram & Gazette)

Amazon last-mile distribution center.
Source: Shutterstock | Photographer: Stephen Dewhurst

In Brief

A plan to turn the Greendale Mall in Worcester, Massachusetts, into an Amazon last-mile distribution center has been approved four to one, according to Steven H. Foskett Jr. at the Telegram & Gazette, sparking concerns from locals about traffic impact and construction inconvenience.

Why We Care

Redevelopment projects like this one can be difficult to navigate; they’re often a source of controversy and consternation within communities, particularly when the proposed development presents a dramatic departure from how a site has been used in the past. But the Greendale redevelopment is not a new phenomenon. This mall is just one in a sea of many that are being repurposed. As renowned urbanist Ellen Dunham-Jones explored in our last issue, many malls are downsizing their retail square-footage to offer amenities like gyms and healthcare centers instead. The challenge, then, lies in ensuring that redevelopment projects serve the needs of the communities in which they are situated.

Blueprint contributor Micah Golomb-Leavitt

Micah Golomb-Leavitt is a writer and digital publishing intern for Blueprint.


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