“I don’t think anybody’s got a crystal ball on the shape of the recovery.”
In Round 4 of weekly conversations with our participants, many spoke about the challenge of using a crisis as a moment for re-invention. There is no shortage of a sense of urgency from our city and corporate leaders to start shaping the future now, using this unique period in time as a critical window of opportunity for transformation.
The transformation can take different guises, as there is no certainty on what the length and nature of recovery from this crisis looks like. Participants shared both tactical actions, such as ensuring new public infrastructure has a dual use, or decentralizing services to respond with more flexibility in a crisis, as well as long-term strategies to take account of the changed nature of global supply chains.
As far as stimulus and cash injections go, it hasn’t gone unnoticed in our conversations that there are parallels to be drawn with the financial crisis of 2008-9 – and hard lessons to be learned. Back then bail-out and stimulus packages came with few strings attached to bring economies rapidly back to their previous state, so the opportunity to push for a greener, more sustainable economy slipped away. Will it be different this time?
“The real risk is, 10 years from now – or even two years from now – they’re going to be writing the same obituary of the billions of dollars that went out the door. We could have, should have, etc. Just like 2008 and 2009. Well, we didn’t get it done, and therefore we lost the decade. And given that this is the final decade in which we can do things in a more cost effective manner to address climate, it comes back to, can’t we get out of our box and just really push very hard or think a bit more creatively?” And, that leaders should not wait any longer: “It’s a bit of a time crunch that we’re facing. I think it’s weeks that we have.”
If this crisis forces a moment for reinvention, are those currently not in crisis-mode (or to a lesser extent) missing out on this opportunity? As one city Chief Resilience Officer mused: “You might think Sweden were lucky because they didn’t lock down. But on the other hand, they also maybe lost the opportunity to rethink themselves in general, like we now have to do.”
Finally, despite looking to the future, several participants were also facing some very real, immediate consequences of the pandemic. Corporate leaders shared their concerns about having to lay off staff amid the possibility of having lost whole areas of business into the future where sectors like aviation and hospitality had collapsed. At the same time they were finding planning beyond the next few weeks extremely difficult as uncertainties proliferated. Meanwhile some cities in the global South, learning from those ahead of them, are planning for significant ‘excess deaths’. Those engaged in such ‘fatalities management’ well ahead of time are realizing there is inevitably a big difference between planning for dark possibilities and having them arrive at one’s doorstep: “It’s very difficult to get everyone focused on the crisis when you are discussing theoretically what is going to happen in the future…until that day arrives, and you realize, heck, it’s here!”