Can We See the Light?

As I write this in the middle of March, the country has been locked down because of the pandemic for a full year. During that time, I—and many others—have tried to shed a light on what has been happening, but I have to admit, the light I have been able to shed has been dim. We all have been in a fog with little sense of the proper direction, just feeling and grasping our way through as best we can.

Is the end of the pandemic near, and what does that portend?

By Paul Deffenbaugh

Deffenbaugh Headshot 1

Now, a year later, we have habituated ourselves to the new reality just at the time hope has seemed to appear and the fog is lifting. The rollout for the vaccines has accelerated dramatically in the last few weeks. According to the New York Times, the seven-day average for daily doses as of March 16 was 2,435,037. Compare that to the seven-day average a month prior on February 16, when it was 1,716,311. That’s a 30% increase with the rate of increase accelerating. On March 14, more than 4.5 million doses were administered.

As of March 16, 12% of the population has been fully vaccinated either with the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine or the two-dose vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. 22.5% of the population has received at least one dose of the two-dose versions.

So, what’s next? There’s a lot that has changed in our world in the last year, but are those changes long lasting? I remember distinctly the sense in the country after the 9/11 attacks, when people felt that there had been a major shift in our priorities, and we would now be less partisan and more cooperative among different political factions. And I remember after the housing recession when people thought that our natures would change and consumers would be less willing to take on debt, and savings as a percentage of income would increase. Neither of those predictions came true. We slipped back into our old ways, and—if anything—we were worse.

Human nature is tough to change; habits are hard to break.

My belief is that there has been one fundamental shift in how we interact with each other and the world as a result of the pandemic: we are finally comfortable working remotely and have devised systems that allow us to be efficient even if we are not in the same space together. That change can have profound consequences for the built environment. If we can work remotely, why do we need to live in cities? Will small towns experience a rebirth? Will we have a glut of office space? Can we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels we need for transportation?

On many of these things, I don’t see us going back to our old ways. In the last year, I have consumed less than two tanks of gasoline, driving fewer than 500 miles. I’ve worked at home the whole time (or as some folks say, I now live at work), and I don’t imagine the need for our company to return to a centralized office. I like to think that our audience has not seen a single change in our ability to present quality content because we are all now speaking by video conference instead of face-to-face.

Not every company can do what we do. You can’t email steel. But every company is now going to re-evaluate how it operates as a result of this enforced experiment.

Editor Marcy Marro has written a feature article for our sister publication, Metal Architecture, on design in the post-pandemic world. It includes some surprising answers. You can read it here.