This pandemic has laid bare cracks in American society. Gun sales rose to record levels in March 2020. African Americans are dying from the virus at twice the rate of whites. Over 3 million Californians have filed for unemployment.
At the same time, California’s culture of innovation is on full display. Silicon Valley companies are providing the social infrastructure to keep us connected while staying physically distant. California is the birthplace of Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Zoom. Each of these companies is re-inventing their offerings to offer everything from homeschooling to meditation to virtual dance parties.
As we emerge from our cocoons, engineers and planners are taking stock of new opportunities for a better world. It is a moment to reimagine systems of production and consumption, design and lifestyles, safety nets and basic rights. California is poised to be a laboratory for such change.
To enable physically distant recreation, the City of Oakland closed 74 miles of streets to through traffic. Can these routes remain slower, safer streets even post-pandemic? San Francisco leaders just voted an emergency measure to rent out 7,000 hotel rooms to house the city’s entire homeless population. If we are able to house everyone now, why not always? Millions working at home exposes the avoidable ecological costs of the commuter society. Los Angeles is now experiencing some of the cleanest air of any major city in the world. Can telecommuting become a permanent solution to our climate crisis?
A question currently trending on Google is “Are birds singing louder?” The answer is no. Americans are just being quieter. And that may not be a bad thing.