From the start, the pandemic has required patience and faith of all kinds from us. And, as we begin to see the end, by some standards, of the pandemic, those same requirements still apply. This is because we had never encountered anything like this, and, no, the Spanish flu does not count since the conditions were different. And, as we approach the end, it is interesting for me to hear so many predictions of what is next.
The predictions I have heard range from “end of days,” which means, of course, that we are on our way to the end of the world in, literally, biblical proportions, to a new renaissance, which encompasses health, technology, art, work patterns, social justice, and environmental protection. Personally, my personal inclinations point me towards the renaissance, and not just because I can tend to be “too optimistic” at times, but rather because I love and know my history. As far back as we can trace our collective human history, we can find proof of massive change coming after a crisis or catastrophe. That is not to say that the change has always been entirely “good,” but it has been a change and, in the long run, it has led to sustained improvement, which we often forget.
So what does that mean for us in San Francisco? One, we can work remotely from home and be as efficient as ever, if not more. Second, we can have a balanced life-work experience, if simply because we were forced to stay at home more and cohabitate more. Third, we can spend more time with our children and help them learn without teachers doing 100% of the work. Fourth, we can take stock of our behavior and how it impacts the health of our planet. And we can be more resourceful, effective, and creative than we ever thought; because we had to be those things. It was expected of us, and we rallied.
We are still in the development stage in terms of social justice and harmony, but at least we know it. It took Me Too, BLM, and anti-Asian sentiment to realize how underdeveloped we still are as a society for many of us. But at least there is awareness, more empathy, and the topic is out there for discussion. And although the kind of growth we seek is more easily found in a city like San Francisco, what happens in the City is transferred out eventually to other parts of the country and world. If nothing else, we are an example that people thousands of miles can point to and say: “Well, they have done that!” And the same will apply to how we deal with continual urban growth and development and how we use and nurture our environment, both the natural and the built environment. There is still no clear answer as to what will happen with the new parklets, the “Slow Streets” program, pedestrian and bike-friendly roads, or the partial but permanent closure of JFK Boulevard or the Great Highway, but for many of us that have gotten a taste of a new way of doing things, it will be tough to go back.
We had taken our personal and ecological health for granted for so many decades, but now we know how fragile both are.