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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

New Urbanism and COVID-19

As the guy who wrote about his love for New Urbanism three months ago and wanted to promote the idea of being more connected to people through close contact with them, COVID-19 makes me feel pretty silly. My first reaction to the outbreak hitting America was bleak. Everyone is going to hole up in their single-family suburban houses, I thought. People will be afraid to use public transportation. All public gathering spaces will close. I thought this was going to set New Urbanism in America back years. I later realized that if there is truth to what I believe, that people have a desire for community and that that desire would be better met through public and private planning that greater resembled the principles of New Urbanism, then the COVID-19 outbreak will actually usher in New Urbanism faster.

COVID-19 has given America the chance to see what is at the end of the tunnel it has been heading down for a long time. A world based on individualism. Valuing comfort over friendship, people choose to stay in their homes and watch programs alone rather than enjoy a night out with friends. Where they prefer shorter commute times and the privacy of their own cars to reducing the destruction of the planet (not to mention burn a few calories walking). A world where neighbors are seen as annoyances instead of companions. 

Thankfully, America has looked at this future and has full heartedly rejected it. This was technology’s greatest opportunity to show that it could replace human interaction, that the social world could move online, but it failed. People raced to Zoom their loved ones. Streaming services saw a huge jump in membership. Food delivery companies offered more ways than ever to get delicious food with minimal effort. But it was not the same.

It did not take long for everyone to miss the physical touch of those they love, the thrill of enjoying a new experience with friends and even the daily interactions we have with strangers.

This experiment of sending everyone into complete social isolation will be the event that sparks a new movement towards more social living. Freed from their couches, we will rush to the stadiums and crowd the bars, putting our arms around one another as we cheer on our teams. We will ditch our quick solo drives to the grocery store, preferring a stroll with friends and family at the farmer’s market. Rather than eating food that has been dropped off in a box on our doorstep, we will go out to restaurants, meeting those who have prepared our meals.

Ironically, people are embracing their communities and physical world more than ever. There are more people walking the streets, yelling across the lawn to their neighbors and going for hikes in their parks than ever before. People have felt the anguish of being alone, and it will move them to action. At the end of all this, we will live in a world much more aware of the virtues of living in community.

Matthew is the 3-Talley RA in Alumni Hall from Cincinnati. He majors in civil engineering with an itty bitty minor in theology. Writing this column is the last in his long list of shortly lived passions. He can be reached at and @coltonjorge on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.