The Berkeley Planning Journal is an annual peer-reviewed journal published by graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP) at the University of California, Berkeley since 1985.
Volume 32, Issue 1, 2022
COVID-19: Adaptation under Uncertainty
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unimaginable adversity, with nations across the globe devising ways to cope with the loss of life, economic productivity, and social fabric. Due to the agnostic nature of the virus, no facet of society, whether in the Global North or South, has been left untouched. As beacons of economic and social agglomeration, the pre-pandemic city, in particular, has seen a rapid transformation, in often unforeseen directions. Local businesses have shuttered, while large technology companies have thrived; offices have closed, while their adjacent streets have been opened for active mobility and social activities; apartment rents have decreased, while single-family home prices have increased; the underprivileged have been adversely affected by both the virus as well as the economic reality of the pandemic, while the affluent have been largely untouched in both health and economy. Responses to COVID-19 in various nations have only exacerbated existing socioeconomic inequities, and, expectedly, not all federal, state, or local responses have been beneficial to all strata of society. This white paper focuses on several core themes that have evolved over the course of the pandemic and have behaved differently across geographies: (1) urban economics and equity (2) social and economic power dynamics, and (3) strategies to preserve urban social and economic systems.
This paper charts my path from observer to action researcher – and my ex post realisation that a transition had happened in my work. This transition happened on the fly, in the field, without me critically reflecting on it at the time, while I was studying evictions in Port Vila, Vanuatu, South Pacific. My ethics came into direct conflict with my research approach, and I chose to change my approach. I theorise my transformation in the modernity/coloniality literature and close by offering strategies to students and other researchers who are looking for ways to engage more deeply with, and give something back to, the communities they study.
Chinatowns in North America have been especially hit hard by COVID-19, a reality of anti-Asian racist and xenophobic sentiment exacerbated by the global pandemic. The factors contributing to increased business closures, commercial vacancy, and gentrification in Chinatowns have existed before the pandemic and have only been exacerbated. In order to preserve Chinatowns, municipalities have enacted historic preservation and small business support measures, such as historic designations, technical assistance for businesses, increased permit scrutiny, and legacy business programs. This study investigates the difference in retail changes across three Chinatowns in Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles both prior and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concurrently, this study also examines the impact of retaining a legacy business program and other preservation measures on the retail landscape. Interviews with city officials, organizers, community institutions, and members of the business community were conducted along with an analysis of existing local programs, policies and reports. This study finds that measures taken through historic preservation, small business support, and pandemic relief have not significantly addressed core needs within Chinatown communities. The most effective forms of relief and preservation was affordable housing, community-ownership of commercial businesses, and direct assistance for commercial rent. This study also acknowledges that some Chinatowns are faring better than others due to the ability of the Chinese community to fight against to historic discriminatory planning practices such as urban renewal, slum clearance, and highway building. The impact of these histories is deeply intertwined with the survivability of ethnic retail within each distinct Chinatown, and depending on the strength of existing community ties that remain will inform how preservation policies should be enacted.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of San Francisco sanctioned the use of public space on sidewalks and parking spaces for commercial use as part of their Shared Spaces initiative. Combined with streamlined permitting processes and an iterative rollout of design guidelines and inspections, the program facilitated a rapid and large-scale shift in the city’s streetscape. Using the Valencia Street commercial corridor in San Francisco’s Mission District as a case study area, we define and observe the “outdoor commercial spaces” (OCS) to present a preliminary typology based on degree of enclosure as a potential signifier of different patterns in use and perception of public space. We interview residents and other stakeholders to explore emerging themes in the perception of OCS, complemented by pedestrian path tracing along different sections of Valencia Street. Our findings indicate that differences in the degree of enclosure in OCS on Valencia Street partially reflect their diversity in use and business type. The limited interview data also suggests that individuals across all stakeholder groups generally believe OCS represent an improvement to public space even when more enclosed OCS imply the privatization of public space. Additionally, pedestrian behavior while the street is closed to vehicular traffic implies that the street closure is an important complement to OCS that maximizes the potential benefits of an activated streetscape while mitigating the negative effects and perceptions of privatization. However, these changes may amplify existing patterns of inclusion and exclusion in public spaces on Valencia Street. Especially as many OCS may become permanent fixtures of San Francisco’s streets, their design and purpose have important implications for street-level accessibility and city-wide equity for small businesses. These dynamics –and the OCS themselves –are likely to continue evolving during the transition to long-term guidelines and implementation.