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December 16, 2020  

“Will Cities Survive 2020?”

December 16, 2020

Every week on the Upzoned podcast, host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and regular co-host Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns, take one big story in the news and they “upzone” it—they look at it through a Strong Towns lens.

At the close of a year in which towns and cities were tested in profound ways by a global pandemic and social unrest, it seems fitting that the final episode of the year should be about an article called “Will Cities Survive 2020?” Writing in Reason magazine, Christian Britschgi says that COVID-19 has reignited age-old debates about land-use and public health:

The history of America's cities is, in a very real sense, the history of zoning regulations, which have long shaped real estate development, labor, and living arrangements. So it's no surprise that COVID-19, the biggest public health crisis in a century, which has occasioned an equally massive public health response, has already begun reshaping how people live in cities and how they are governed—rekindling old debates over urban density vs. suburban sprawl while raising new questions about the value of many land-use regulations.

In the article, Britschgi describes the ways in which public health crises shaped cities in the past. But, says Britschgi, zoning codes initially justified as a way to protect health "have now gone far beyond nuisance laws...and control of infectious disease. They instead incorporated planners' desires to scientifically manage cities, protect property values, and combat the moral corruption that supposedly came with high-density housing." The coronavirus pandemic is similarly placing immense pressure on cities, but it remains to be seen whether communities will be allowed (because of that constrictive zoning) “to grow, evolve, and adapt to new challenges.”

In this episode of Upzoned, Abby and Chuck discuss the Reason article and what effect 2020 will have on towns and cities going forward. They talk about why most cities are likely to survive, but probably not in their current form. They discuss why cities were so fragile in the first place, why disruptive change has become exponentially more common, and the surprising cities that can teach us about how to adapt creatively to a crisis.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck continues his Christmas tradition of baking while listening to novels, most recently The Sentinel, by Lee Child. And Abby is doing some holiday crafting of her own...with a to-scale, gingerbread version of her own home.

Additional Show Notes: