May 7, 2020

Axios Cities

Welcome back, friends.

  • 🌇 Today at 2pm ET, I'll be moderating a virtual panel, "Smart cities in the era of COVID-19," including remarks from New Orleans CIO Kimberly LaGrue. Register here.
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⚡️ Situational awareness: Sidewalk Labs announced in a blog post on Thursday that it will no longer pursue the Quayside smart city project on the Toronto Waterfront. (SmartCities Dive)

Today's edition is 1,846 words, a 7-minute read.

1 big thing: Coping with the pandemic's hidden mental health toll

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As COVID-19 continues to strain health systems around the country, local leaders are trying to address the mental health needs of people in their communities.

Why it matters: Unlike the physical maladies the pandemic causes, its psychological toll is often invisible, and stress tends to have a cumulative effect that may not be apparent until months after the trauma of this period.

Between the lines: Stress becomes traumatic when people face uncontrollable events that are continually changing and require constant adaptation.

  • Ironically, the very mandates that officials are making to protect communities from COVID-19, such as continued social distancing, are creating new challenges and sources of stress.
"When people experience stress, we naturally want to escape it, usually by finding something that feels familiar, comforting, and routine. COVID-19 is unique because it is not only adding stress to our lives, but has also taken away predictable outlets for dealing with that stress."
— Madison, Wisconsin, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway in a recent blog post

What's happening: Mayors and local public health officials have launched initiatives to support their communities' most vulnerable residents — and are openly talking about their own struggles.

In Coral Springs, Florida, Mayor Scott Brook launched the nonprofit Mental Wellness Networking Alliance in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. It started with monthly in-person meetings with licensed counselors. When the coronavirus pandemic kept people at home, Brook shifted to weekly virtual meetings held via Zoom and Facebook Live.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, during daily press briefings, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird shares her own family's experience with the added strain, as well her own self-care routine, including daily runs, per the Lincoln Journal Star.

In Topeka, Kansas, Mayor Michelle De La Isla instituted a "warmline" system (as opposed to a hotline) to connect volunteers with lonely residents who need to talk to someone. She's read books to children via Facebook.

The big picture: Local leaders should use their pulpits to share emotional connections with residents and create a sense of belonging, said Melissa Whitson, associate professor of psychology at the University of New Haven, who specializes in community psychology and trauma.

  • "Not only will people trust that leader more, it also normalizes it for people," Whitson said. "People need to hear they're not alone."

What to watch: The extent of mental health problems is still unknown, but large-scale studies are underway.

  • For example, health measurement firm Evidation just announced a nationwide study with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine to understand the mental health impact of the pandemic.

Go deeper: How domestic abusers tap technology — and how to stop them

2. Amid lockdowns, U.S. still has a gun violence problem
Data: Gun Violence Archive; Graphic: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Police departments throughout the U.S. have seen crime rates fall since the coronavirus pandemic, but shootings in some cities have surged despite stay-at-home orders, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

Why it matters: Before the pandemic, mass shootings — when four or more people are injured — drove the national conversation on gun violence. But while shootings at schools or crowded places snagged the headlines, victims were in their homes 61% of the time when gunfire erupted.

By the numbers: The U.S. logged nearly 2,100 gun deaths between March 1 and April 19, 6% more than the same time period in the past three years, per aggregated data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

The big picture: Americans are still confronting gunfire in their homes during the pandemic, including domestic violence incidents, injuries from improperly stored firearms and suicide, per research organization Giffords.

  • Many Americans have stocked up on guns since the outbreak, with a rise in first-time owners.
"Under all of these social-economic stressors and social isolation, you now have firearms, one of the biggest risk factors for fatal outcomes for self-harm. ... Now we have a lot of guns in homes and I'm deeply concerned about domestic homicide, suicide and a lot of bored kids with time on their hands if those guns are not stored safely."
— Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research

Zooming in: Dallas, Nashville, Philadelphia and Tucson saw shootings, firearm homicides and assaults go up while crimes like robberies and drug offenses declined, per an analysis on shootings and the pandemic by The Trace.

  • Chicago, New Orleans and Washington saw gun violence fall while under lockdown compared to weeks prior, but not as much as other crimes where guns weren't involved.

Yes, but: Shootings generally increase as the weather warms up. Experts say it's best to watch year-over-year trends of gun violence in addition to data from periods before and after the state lockdowns.

Between the lines: Emergency response workers already had the daunting task of treating shooting victims in underserved neighborhoods before the onset of the pandemic. Now these same communities are also the hardest hit by COVID-19 infections, and their resources are battling both public health crises.

The bottom line: It will likely take months or longer to fully understand the effects of gun violence during the coronavirus pandemic, Webster said.

3. Coronavirus crisis to drag neighborhoods deeper into poverty
Reproduced from EIG analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data and American Community Survey 5-year estimates. Note: EIG defines Newly poor as rate < 20% in 1980, ≥30% in 2018; Deepening poverty as rate ≥20% and <30% in 1980, ≥30% in 2018; Persistent poverty as rate ≥30% in 1980, ≥30% in 2018; and Turned around as rate ≥30% in 1980, <20% in 2018; Chart: Axios Visuals

More and more neighborhoods that fall into poverty end up staying there — and that was before the severe economic crisis brought on by coronavirus, according to a report out this week from the Economic Innovation Group.

By the numbers: Two-thirds of metropolitan neighborhoods that were high poverty — a 30% poverty rate or higher — in 1980 were still high poverty in 2018.

  • Nationally, only 14% of neighborhoods that were high poverty in 1980 had turned around to become low poverty — a poverty rate of less than 20% — by 2018.

What's happening: Persistently poor neighborhoods tend to be clustered near city centers in the Northeast and South — in cities like Newark, Baltimore, Memphis and Atlanta.

  • Newly poor neighborhoods tend to be farther away from urban cores in Rust Belt cities like Cleveland and Detroit or high-growth Sun Belt hubs like Phoenix and Houston.

Between the lines: In 1980, poor Americans were as likely to live in low-poverty communities as in high-poverty ones.

  • Now, there's a much higher chance that poor Americans live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and their exposure to economic opportunity and the social capital that fuels upward income mobility tends to be limited, said Kenan Fikri, one of the authors of the report.
  • "Combine that with the increasing income segregation that we're seeing, and you have a picture of an economic opportunity crisis that was bad while the tape was playing. Now the tape has run out, and it's poised to get significantly worse," he added.
4. The push to curb traffic post-COVID
Expand chart
Adapted from the Brookings Institution analysis of Streetlight Data; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The pandemic has caused steep reductions in car travel — and some experts want to keep the benefits of less driving once it's over, Axios' Ben Geman reports.

  • Even if driving rebounded completely by next month, 2020 would see the lowest nationwide vehicle miles traveled since 1998, Adie Tomer and Lara Fishbane note in a recent Brookings Institution post.
  • They say it's possible to revive the economy while maintaining the benefits of greatly reduced traffic.

What to watch: Remote work should be allowed to continue in sectors where it's possible as states begin easing restrictions, they argue.

  • Other steps include permanently revamping streets to better accommodate pedestrians and non-car uses like bikes and implementing fees based on miles driven to make up for gas tax revenue losses.
5. Yes, but: Remote work has limitations
Expand chart
Reproduced from Becker Friedman Institute; Map: Axios Visuals

A recent analysis from University of Chicago economists concludes that 37% of U.S. jobs can be performed at home, although this varies across industries and regions and is generally far more feasible for high-income workers, Ben reports.

What we're watching: How much the push to make telework the new normal will affect government and corporate policies, and become part of growing calls for "green" economic recovery efforts.

  • "Now everyone has been part of an involuntary 'pilot project' and many employers who thought they couldn’t or shouldn’t allow it, have been surprised at the results of this foray into telework," said New Urban Mobility Alliance director Harriet Tregoning.
  • Tregoning says the case for telework is even stronger as companies are under more pressure to curb costs including rent and power bills.

But, but, but: University of Sussex researchers write, "Despite the generally positive verdict on teleworking as an energy-saving practice, there are numerous uncertainties and ambiguities about its actual or potential benefits."

  • For example, they cite the potential for "unpredictable increases in non-work travel and home energy use that may outweigh the gains from reduced work travel."
  • One drag on energy savings, they say, is that telework can encourage living farther from workplaces, so people drive more when they do visit the office.
6. New calls to boost startups in the Heartland

A street in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, earlier this year. Photo by Eric Baradat/AFT via Getty Images.

Making the American Heartland a more hospitable place for startups is key to maximizing job creation and recovering from the economic downturn, a new paper argues.

Why it matters: "We cannot afford to lose an entire ecosystem of new firms as a result of COVID-19," said Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward, and an author of the report. "If we don't help young businesses get through this crisis, it's going to stunt our ability to recover."

The big picture: The common economic development strategy of luring manufacturing facilities to a city through tax incentives is no longer cost-effective, he said.

  • Rather, he said, fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem — an area in which the region lags — will drive long-term job creation and attract talent away from the coasts.
  • Startups created roughly 2.6 million jobs in 2016, per the Census Bureau’s Business Dynamics Statistics. By comparison, firms of all other ages lost 267,000 jobs on net.

Meanwhile: Revolution CEO Steve Case, a vocal proponent of increasing venture capital investment beyond San Francisco, New York and Boston, this week called for congressional support for job-creating startups, including requiring that a portion of the funds go to firms outside coastal tech hubs.

  • In an interview with me during an Axios event this week, Case said shoring big companies and small businesses won't necessarily bring back the jobs lost so far during the pandemic.
  • "We have to focus on what has always been the job-creating sector of our economy, which are startups," he said. "If we want to create jobs everywhere, we have to back entrepreneurs everywhere."
7. Urban files

Why the coronavirus tears us apart (Axios)

How life in our cities will look different after the pandemic (Foreign Policy)

The race to make your subway ride safer (New York Times)

The Harsh Future of American Cities (Gen)

Coronavirus triggers California’s worst budget deficit in state history (LA Times)

8. 1 sweet thing: Mother's Day in the time of coronavirus 💐

Mother's Day outings won't be the same this year, but businesses are still trying to do something special for moms who are a tad more stressed out this year (at least this mom certainly is).

  • Lowe's and Uber are delivering $1 million worth of flowers to mothers in areas hard hit by COVID-19. Flower baskets will be delivered to 500 long-term care and senior facilities in New York, Seattle, Houston, Miami and Chicago, among other cities, per CNN.
  • The Catholic Archdiocese of New York is loosening cemetery-visitation restrictions for Mother's Day, which is the most popular day for cemetery visits, per the Rockland/Westchester Journal News.
  • Pittsburgh’s famous Primanti Bros. is giving away free sandwiches.

Quick take: While this all sounds lovely, I'd settle for a nap.

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