CCA Reflects: Urban Living in the Time of Coronavirus

CCA Reflects: Urban Living in the Time of Coronavirus

Published Monday, August 3, 2020

During these challenging times, CCA continues to advocate for a vibrant Downtown Los Angeles where people can live, work and visit -- but naturally, questions have come up about how coronavirus will affect urban life. Living in DTLA means having the best restaurants, entertainment and cultural activities just a short walk or transit ride away. What happens when the full amenities of urban living are not accessible? It's been extremely challenging for DTLA during this crisis but we know urban centers are valuable -- they are the places for innovation, full of high-paying jobs and support community living.

Urban cores generate significant economic output and are historically resilient. The New York metro area alone generates more economic output than entire countries like Australia and Spain, and a third of US economic production is from ten of our major cities. Historically, Downtown has been Los Angeles' center for rebuilding and resilience. Over the past several decades, Downtown has experienced huge challenges, yet major transformation. With the 1992 riots, the 1994 earthquake, 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, people thought it would be the death of cities, but we have come back stronger each time. Venues where large groups of people gather may not be accessible in the same way for the time being, but we're seeing incredible innovation to safely bring people together for entertainment and try to make the best of this time.

Important and high-profile venues like STAPLES Center, Microsoft Theater and L.A. LIVE have developed new protocols and procedures to help ensure the safety of guests and continue to work with promoters and managers to create new events that could take place even before large gatherings of fans are once again permitted. The Music Center pivoted their presentations to a new virtual digital platform -- The Music Center Offstage -- to bring arts experiences into homes. As an example, they reinvented their free Friday night summer outdoor dance experience and are now offering fans the opportunity to dance safely at home. Even during this pandemic, the priceless creativity, livability and community of urban living carries on.

There are misconceptions about urban living and the spread of COVID-19. Anti-urbanist thoughts based on the belief that suburban and rural areas are safer than cities during the pandemic is a knee-jerk and fear-induced reaction. We are seeing people market their houses as allegedly safe from the virus, labeling their properties on home sharing sites as "COVID-19 safe" simply because it is not located in a city. The truth is, the virus is spreading, and no one community is impervious to infection. Fear of contracting COVID-19 in urban areas is understandable, but it is important to note that even rural areas are spreading the virus, and recent reports show that the virus is spreading at an increasingly faster rate even in Southern California suburbs. It's also important to note that hyperdense cities in Asia -- including Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo and more -- have seen lower death rates and have contained the spread much better than other places.

Urban life provides community and health support. Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago, argues that people will always seek the kind of social contact that cities provide. Living in a dense area means having neighbors down the hall to leave essential items at the door and the ability to quickly access nearby grocery stores and hospitals. The density that comes with urban life affords more options -- if a store runs out of an item, there are several more stores to shop from nearby. If a resident is sick, a neighbor can shop for them. Urban centers also offer the nation's best hospitals close by if someone does get sick, and these hospitals have capacity. For example, DTLA is home to California Hospital Medical Center and has Kaiser Permanente, OIC, USC and UCLA hospitals nearby. DTLA increased hospital bed capacity during this crisis with the Convention Center South Hall transforming into a Medical Relief Center for patients in case a hospital surge occurs. Additionally, living centrally means there are many options for getting a COVID-19 test, including at places like CVS. Downtown's residential population has grown tremendously and will continue to in the next decades, and we know that our community will only get stronger as we come out of this crisis.

Even during the COVID-19 crisis, urban life affords plenty of opportunities to practice healthy habits. DTLA is an environmentally friendly, walkable neighborhood with beautiful green spaces, rooftops, balconies and street space where people can exercise and enjoy the environment while maintaining a safe social distance. People choose to live Downtown not only because living close to work and amenities is convenient, but because they know it's more environmentally friendly. The growth in popularity of the 12-acre Grand Park as a central gathering space among Angelenos from all over LA County is a testament to the transformation of DTLA. In May, UCLA did a study showing that across Southern California, air quality improved by 20% due to the decrease in traffic. DTLA residents already had a lower carbon footprint than others and saw what air quality in LA could look like if more Angelenos joined them in this lifestyle and had shorter commutes. And residents were able to enjoy this cleaner air in DTLA during the pandemic.

This is the moment to think big and plan for the future. DTLA is rich in culture, life-saving resources and ever-growing innovation. The cutting-edge businesses that cities attract have been experimenting with technologies to adapt to this new environment in order to overcome the pandemic. Companies are thinking creatively to design workplaces that accommodate safe distancing for offices and creating tools like fever detection, contact tracing, touchless utility tools and more. And our city government needs to embrace this moment as well. We saw Metro's construction for the Purple Line extension expedited due to their ability to work uninterrupted during the Safer at Home order. Many streets were closed to support pedestrian use during the crisis and we are excited about programs like the LA Al Fresco initiative which will bring dining outside. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is spearheading the "15-minute city" effort for residents to be able to meet all needs including shopping, work, recreational and cultural needs within just a 15-minute walk or bike ride away as a way for pandemic recovery that will create a more equitable and sustainable city.

Our city is facing many crises. This pandemic has been devastating for our community and businesses, and we know we have huge economic challenges. And housing and homelessness issues have been present even before the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these crises show the vulnerabilities in our economy and government structure. But we are strong and resilient. We must leverage this moment and not only solve shorter term issues but continue to strive towards our vision for a livable and dynamic DTLA for our residents, workers and visitors. This vision will help restore our economy and inspire people to invest in Downtown's future -- and that's why urban life is here to stay.