By Mauricio Zuluaga
Crises are not opportunities per se, but the way we deal with them may open great opportunities. The COVID19 pandemic is having social and financial effects, just comparable with the Big Depression, started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. However, this time everything is different, and we have fallen to the deepest point just in a matter of days. This means that we have less time to react and we depend on rapid problem solving and innovation to get through.
Plato is credited for coining the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention”. As a consequence of COVID19, new needs have emerged. From the humblest street vendor in a Latin-American town to the biggest corporation in Silicon Valley, the pandemic is compelling us to expedite innovation, creating us the need of leading to rapid advances in procedures, technology, and policies. As an effort to adapt society to this challenge, some ideas have been brought to the table, and we can expect the following changes for some Latin-American major cities:
It has been proved that social distance is the key to avoid COVID19 spreading. While a vaccine is developed; large cities have to create new strategies to ensure that their citizens will be able to go back from lockdowns keeping the minimum gap. Before the pandemic, the 24-hour city concept was suggested to solve the traffic congestion in metropolis with a large population, such as Mexico City (20 million people), Sao Pablo (13 million people), and Bogota (8.5 million people).
This concept is likely to be implemented by those cities during the pandemic. By creating three working shifts (8 hours each one) there would be more room for each citizen, and social distance may remain. The idea of shopping centers, gyms, supermarkets, industries, and public transport working at 35% of their capacity, forces them to multiply their business hours by three. If 24-hour cities pilots succeed, this model may survive after the pandemic, being a solution to Latin-American heavy traffic.
Back to the countryside
Latin America is the most urbanized region in the world. The industrial revolution left behind the agriculture sector, which has been defined as an unprofitable business. At the same time, the recurrence of armed conflicts in Latin-American rural zones forced a large number of farmers to move from the countryside to the big cities. As a consequence, the urbanization in the region increased from 40% in 1955 to over 80% in 2020. The pandemic may change that trend, and more people are likely to go back to the countryside; not just looking for social distance, but the importance of the agro has been vindicated.
These two trends (24-hour cities and the return to the countryside), plus the home office popularity, may change the trend seen in Latin America during the last decades, where cities have become larger, pushing home prices up in metropolis. Despite the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean will record a negative growth of -1.8% this year, and inhabitants who live in conditions of extreme poverty would rise from 67.5 million to 90.8 million; there is a chance that a new model of cities can emerge.