Things will never be the same. But things were never going to be the same.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not changed the world but it has accelerated the pace of change that was already coming. It might sound like a contradiction to say a disease that has brought the world to a virtual halt is actually speeding things up. But that is just what’s happening. And it’s not unique to this crisis. Over the course of human history, pandemics have hurried the decline of empires, hastened the rise of social mobility, and encouraged the growth of science.
This pandemic has forced all levels of government to address the immediate physical, social, mental, and economic needs of their citizens. At times, it might seem the challenges will never be addressed and the crisis will never be over. Yet, they will be addressed and this crisis will come to an end. However, as much as life may return to a state of normalcy, things will never be the same.
The COVID-19 crisis has, among other things, forced us indoors and online, perhaps speeding up the transition from traditional bricks-and-mortar office work toward a doing-business-from-anywhere model. Ironically, as it pushes us apart physically, the crisis has sparked a newfound appreciation for, and desire to live in, a real community. We have grown to miss those casual conversations with our neighbours and have also come to realize just how important it is to know our neighbours and to look out for each other. You may have dropped off food at the door of someone in your neighbourhood who was isolated at home, or you may have had food dropped off at yours. The importance of belonging to a real physical community, to live in an authentic and connected neighbourhood, has never been so apparent to citizens around the world as it is now.
People are also appreciating the value of successful local businesses, and local businesses owners are realizing the value of connecting with the neighbourhood online, too. Companies are beginning to market themselves as part of the community rather than just a business supplying a product. Some of it will work, and some of it won’t. People can see through fake marketing most of the time. Those companies that are truly part of your community will find opportunity and will experience growth without having to market vigorously because they were already at the community level, at the neighbourhood level, when it really mattered.
Municipalities that want to be real communities with real neighbourhoods have found success around North America already. The younger generations discovered long ago they could do business online from anywhere, so they could live where they wanted. Instead of people living where the job is, the jobs are moving to where those next generations want to live. Real communities have already been attracting those next generations.
Communities that mistakenly pursue growth models focused on subdivisions rather than neighbourhoods, promote downtown plans concentrated on business without socialization, and encourage plans that focus on utility while ignoring aesthetics, are on the wrong path. They have long been on the wrong path. This crisis will only speed up that realization.
If this tragic event has a silver lining, it is that we have a chance to right our path and go back to building real communities where people belong rather than subdivisions where people are housed. Community is what makes us stronger and has allowed humanity to survive challenges and flourish time and again. People are stronger when they work together. Community is the foundation of our strength. We have always said that community building is the single most important job anywhere. It is time to build your community.