COVID Contemplations: Local is Key

In a previous blog post I mentioned that I was attacked on twitter for celebrating my neighborhood and my ability to enjoy a neighbor’s company and some local restaurant fare on our front porch. My intent with that tweet, and post, was to start to explore and promote the things that I believe we need in order to thrive in this pandemic stay-at-home circumstance. It is likely that we will encounter more situations that cause us to sequester, reduce travel, protect ourselves and our loved ones from infections. Climate change is causing temperature shifts that increase reach of illnesses, and changes in soil, water, and air systems that cause release of older diseases back into circulation.

Social justice for the win.

What I have realized is that we need to identify some things that are seriously beneficial when we need to limit travel distances. And these are not just beneficial when we need to reduce travel, but always, and they are beneficial while also diminishing economic disparity. Social justice for the win.

graphic from Neal Kessler via Jeff Speck on twitter (follow Jeff!)

The short list is as follows, and I will describe a couple of these in more depth, including why these are so important:

  • A dense city at less than 5 stories in height. Density is different than overcrowding.
  • Front porches and habitable stoops facing the sidewalks and the street
  • Many parks and green spaces within the city and neighborhoods
  • Multi-modal cities, built for people first
  • Local restaurants and shopping, owned by locals
  • Local schools, police, community, and art centers
  • Local bowling alleys, theaters, and fun spaces
  • Local manufacturing
  • Local farms


Front porches and stoops.

They are not expensive, yet they create expanse for living.

I walked to the park the other day, about 3.5 miles round-trip, and spotted a couple of couples, sitting on the respective front stoops of two brownstones facing the park. Yes, the wealthier part of the city, but set that aside for a minute. This was the first time in over ten years of living here that I saw people on their front stoop, drinking wine and visiting their neighbor on the next-door front stoop. The same now happens with porches in my neighborhood. The need to get outside and still be separate, and in command of your own space, is totally supported by front porches and front stoops. They are not expensive, yet they create expanse for living. They make a street homier. They give a place for kids to play outside while still being in sight and in reach. You can be outside in the rain on a porch. They create a safety buffer – you can bet if my neighbor sees someone on my porch they don’t recognize, they will pay extra attention.

Not everyone has a front stoop or a front porch. Not everyone will have one, but I know we can create a serious and transformational come-back for these amenities in all city planning, house building, renovations, affordable housing, and more. This will not only bring safety and options to individual families, but will help recreate communities.

Local business.

This is the big one for me. A HUGE revelation. This struck me when I read about a local hardware store owner that was NOT allowed to open while a big-box hardware store about 15 miles away was. This is ass backwards from what we truly need. Think about the circles of impact when we limit our travel. Reducing the radius of these circles is  pivotal in flattening the curve. Additionally, locally-owned businesses keep dollars in the local community, this we know. The shop-small movement is built on this impact. So combine the two, local and locally owned, and what do we get?

  • Flattened curve in times of flu, COVID-19, etc.
  • More economic strength and security, more networked engagements
  • Resilience – when local manufacturing, services, entertainment all support each other, the supply chain issues can be managed in times of crisis
  • Again, a resurgence of community spirit including awareness, caring, support

If I could go to a locally owned hardware store within walking or bicycling distance from my home, or on transit lines, my way of living would change. It would mean I could be self-sufficient without a car, avoiding all the cost burdens of cars. It would mean that in a pandemic, I could keep my exposure local, and limit the spread, flatten the curve faster, maintain our economic strength through those tough and limiting times.

Locally owned business is not a convenience. It is not just a creator of diversity and opportunity. It is a necessity to a vibrant, resilient, and just community, and it is a strength.

Shop local, enjoy your porch, and be greener.


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