Apr 1, 2020

Axios Cities

Mark your calendars: Axios will be hosting a live virtual event on how the private sector can contribute to social good in the midst of a global pandemic. Join us Friday, at 12:30pm ET, for this in-depth discussion featuring the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Edelman U.S. CEO Richard Edelman. Register here.

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  • Today's edition is 1,828 words, a 7-minute read.
1 big thing: How the pandemic will reshape cities

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The most densely populated cities are ground zero for the virus' rapid spread and highest death tolls — and they're also likely to be pioneers in making lasting changes to help prevent the same level of devastation in the future.

The big picture: The combination of urbanization, climate change and a hyper-connected society means infectious disease epidemics are likely to become more common, the World Economic Forum warns.

Here are predictions from urban experts on how cities might change:

Buildings: We spend 90% of our time indoors. Whitney Austin Gray, senior vice president of the International WELL Building Institute, says building owners should improve air ventilation and filtration to control microbes and mold in the air. Increasing indoor humidity can also help us to be less susceptible to germs.

Streets and sidewalks: "When we start to think about social distancing, we may see a rapid transition to broader sidewalks and closing streets and giving people more space to get around in cities," said Brooks Rainwater, director of the National League of Cities' Center for City Solutions.

Transportation: At least at first, commuters are likely to view personal cars as safer than public transit or shared options like e-scooters or ride-hailing, says David Zipper, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Taubman Center for State and Local Government.

Airports: Temperature checks and other health screenings will likely become more common, Richard Florida and Steven Pedigo write in a piece published by the Brookings Institution.

Remote work: This prolonged period of working from home is expected to accelerate corporate America's acceptance of remote work as a more permanent part of workplace culture.

Digital services: Cities have been forced to deliver more resident services digitally. They may find that there are certain efficiencies to continuing to work this way, or at least being prepared to so, according to What Works Cities.

How we shop, eat and gather: People will likely want to better manage their experiences in stores and restaurants by paying closer attention to crowds and cleanliness, said Carl Bialik, data science editor at Yelp. "Now there will be a spotlight on how establishments are adhering to health standards," he said.

Reality check: In many cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will accelerate trends that were already underway. The new normal may, in fact, feel pretty normal.

  • "At the end of the day, cities shall remain, they just may transform into something a little bit different," said Phillip Kash, partner at HR&A Advisors, an urban planning firm.

Read the full story for more details and quotes from the experts I spoke to.

2. Coronavirus brings inequality into sharper focus

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is laying bare America's stark class inequality and, some experts say, should lead to more urgent policy conversations about housing, wages and worker rights.

Why it matters: The real measure of a city's resiliency is the ability of its residents to survive a crisis and bounce back.

  • While recovery from a natural disaster tends to focus on physical infrastructure, a public health and economic crisis like this is highlighting the deficiencies of U.S. social infrastructure, said Jeff Hebert, partner at urban planning firm HR&A and former deputy mayor and chief resilience officer for New Orleans.

Driving the news: The latest Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index out today finds Americans with less education and lower incomes have been far more likely to keep showing up to work (and risk getting sick or spreading the virus) or to see their work dry up completely. The affluent, meanwhile, have maintained their jobs — and economic security — virtually.

  • "This is going to drive home the consequences of economic inequality in our country and the ripple effects of that on everyone," said HR&A's Kash.

What to watch: In the wake of this crisis, Kash and Hebert expect discussions to focus on tenant rights, housing assistance, worker rights, and policies related to incomes, paid sick leave and unemployment insurance.

Emergency response is more clear cut after a natural disaster. In other words, once a hurricane dissipates, a region can focus on recovery — and lean on other regions for support.

  • That's not an option right now, because the disaster is continuing while authorities everywhere tackle a prolonged response.
  • "We're in uncharted territory right now because we're going to be in emergency response for a very long period of time," Hebert said. "Everyone's in a crisis at once."
3. The Bay Area's virus vigil

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The San Francisco Bay Area is hoping its first-in-the-nation adoption of shelter-in-place policies give it a shot at dodging the virus crisis' worst-case scenarios, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Driving the news: On Monday, seven Bay Area counties extended their shelter-in-place orders, first effective on March 17, from the original April 7 end date to May 1 (and possibly longer).

  • Sara Cody and Scott Morrow, health officers from Santa Clara County and San Mateo County, respectively, have served as the region’s own versions of Anthony Fauci, delivering regular updates and pushing elected officials to make bold moves.
  • Early signs suggest the early moves helped. The number of hospitalized cases in one of the city’s main hospitals has remained low and steady, according to daily Twitter reports from Bob Wachter, department of medicine chair at UC San Francisco.

By the numbers: As of Monday, six patients in San Francisco have died from COVID-19, with 374 total confirmed cases (though testing continues to lag, making it difficult to grasp the true level of virus spread).

The catch: It’s still unclear whether the Bay Area has truly "flattened the curve."

4. WiFi hotspot demand surges

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Demand is outpacing the supply of WiFi hotspots — devices that use cellular signals to create local networks — which are now a hot commodity for schools and libraries looking to bring online learning to students who lack internet access at home, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Where it stands: There are probably fewer than half a million hotspots available from the major carriers in the U.S., said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit that works with schools to increase broadband access.

  • According to FCC estimates, 21 million Americans lack high-speed internet access, though that number could be higher due to problems with data collection.
  • "For this school year, there is basically no chance we can get all these kids online using hotspots," Marwell said.

Even some small orders of hotspots that predate the crisis are going unfilled.

  • The Kansas City Public Library, which planned to loan out the devices to patrons, ordered 100 at the beginning of the year. So far, 25 have arrived, and deputy director Carrie Coogan said she doesn't know when the rest will come.
  • Donors have offered to pay for more hotspots, Coogan said, but it's a question of supply, not money.

Meanwhile: The issue comes as lawmakers debate spending federal funds on hotspots for students in need as part of broader coronavirus stimulus efforts.

  • House Democrats sought $2 billion for schools to pay for WiFi hotspots and connected devices including laptops or tablets, though that didn't make it into the $2 trillion package President Trump signed last week.

Go deeper: Schools get creative to keep students connected

5. City spotlight: Baton Rouge

Tip jar. Photo: Lewis Geyer/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images.

Nearly 450 local hospitality workers who are out of work have joined a "virtual tip jar" started by a local business in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The big picture: A large number of service workers — particularly in the restaurant industry — have lost their livelihoods as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay at home.

How it works: Servers, bartenders and other hospitality workers add their names, establishments, and PayPal or Venmo handles to a Google spreadsheet.

  • People can then scroll through the website to find their favorite restaurants or bars and directly tip them.

Details: The tip jar was created by employees at Emergent Method, a management consulting firm in Baton Rouge.

  • “It’s a way for the local community to support folks whose establishments they would’ve been supporting ordinarily,” Emergent Method partner John Snow told the Baton Rouge Business Report.
6. Map du jour: Stay-at-home orders
Data: Axios research; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

The latest: 33 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico are in or entering lockdown, including more than 270 million people.

Go deeper: The New York Times has a useful guide to the state-by-state orders.

7. Cities face critical shortage of supplies

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

First responders and health care workers are dealing with massive shortages of critical supplies such as face masks, personal protective equipment, ventilators and test kits, according to a U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 213 cities from 41 states and Puerto Rico.

By the numbers:

  • Nearly 92% of cities do not have an adequate supply of face masks for first responders and medical workers. 92% also don't have enough test kits.
  • 88% don't have enough personal protective equipment such as head covers, goggles, disposable aprons and gloves.
  • 85% don't have enough ventilators.

Help from states: 64% of cities say they have not received emergency equipment or supplies from their state government, and of those that have gotten state help, about 85% say it's not enough to meet their needs.

What's needed: Cities were asked to estimate their needs of these supplies. From the cities that were able to provide estimates, the overall needs are 28.5 million face masks, 24.4 million personal protective gear items, 7.9 million test kits and 139,000 ventilators.

8. Urban files

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations over Spain. Courtesy of the European Space Agency

Coronavirus lockdowns give Europe's cities cleaner air (Reuters)

Tough decisions lie ahead as city confronts coronavirus, dire budget challenges (Houston Chronicle)

Atlanta mayor orders extra $500 per month in hazard pay to city’s front-line workers (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The other way the coronavirus will ravage our cities (The Atlantic)

The coronavirus may sink the cruise ship business (Economist)

The safety net got a quick patch. What happens after the coronavirus? (NYT)

9. 1 📫 reminder: Fill out your census form

Census materials. Photo Illustration: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Despite the disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak, the Census Bureau says its self-reporting numbers are on track.

Why it matters: The census determines how federal funding is allocated across state and local governments, including funding for emergency response and public health infrastructure.

Driving the news: Today is the reference date for responses, meaning you should include everyone living in your household as of April 1 when filling out the form.

Where it stands: As of Tuesday, about 50 million households — a national response rate of 34.7% — have responded to the census, said Michael Cook, chief of the U.S. Census Bureau's Public Information Office.

Yes, but: Since the Census Bureau has delayed fieldwork and hiring of field staff, there's a concern that people will mistakenly think that the national count is no longer happening due to the coronavirus shutdowns.

  • For example, the bureau has not been able to visit college campuses to ensure students respond. And many students have returned home or are staying with friends — causing confusion about which address to report.
  • Cook says students should use the address where they usually live during the semester.

The biggest hurdles are trying to reach the historically hard-to-count populations, including those who speak English as a second language, black men between the ages of 18 and 29, and children under 5 years old.

Digital communications are filling the void left by the delay in hiring field workers and in-person events. Cook said the bureau is relying heavily on TV, radio and social media ads to remind people to take action.

  • New York City is using peer-to-peer texting to send reminders, and it quickly converted ads on the subway (which is empty these days) to digital and media ads.

Go deeper: This year's census may be the toughest count yet

Stay safe out there.