The Corona crisis and the European Union
The Corona crisis is inspiring many observers to speculate about the future of Europe, once the Corona epidemic has been tamed. There are many, who believe that a new European solidarity can be expected after the crisis. My concern is rather that in the wake of the Corona crisis, that the power given to national governments will weaken democracies, and nourish authoritarian tendencies, which will continue to increase and spread from Poland or Hungary to other countries in Europe. The nation state within its cultural borders will be re-strengthened and the EU will lose trust. During the crisis the EU Commission had shown little power and creative ideas about how to overcome the crisis. Economic and agricultural policies aiming to secure jobs will guide the future of the Union. Cohesion policy will just serve as a decorative symbol.
The crisis, the cultural sector and digitisation
While national governments are distributing a considerable amount of money to safeguard national and regional economies from ruin, cities and municipalities will suffer from the decline of tax revenues. This may very much curb their future ability to act and determine future urban development priorities. Especially the non-digitised and digitiseable culture will suffer from the consequences of the crisis. Understandably, because the public sector will first aim to get the economy back on its feet again after the crisis, it seems likely to leave behind the cultural sector, which in future will be dependent on even greater digitisation; some artists in the community may even enjoy such a turn.
Since many start-ups that are not geared to digitised services are among the losers of the crisis, public programmes to support start-ups will be scaled back for quite some time, unless they are targeting health and surveillance services. University presidents will give more importance to e-learning methods because they have seen that this is accepted by educators and students. Though one consequence will be that, with the exception of the information and health sciences, fewer positions will be made available for research assistants. US digital companies that offer the software for this will benefit, as will international elite universities that sell expensive e-learning master degrees.
The new experience of the crisis with home-office work will further strain the housing market in attractive urban regions. Cramped flats without a separate study are not suitable for extensive week-long home-office activities. The pressure on the regional second home market will continue to increase because global tourism will lose some of its appeal, though maybe only for a few years. The environment will not benefit from the crisis, as the economic recovery will be prioritised once again. The chance to shift the economy to sustainable development will only be taken in a few sectors. The willingness to switch from cars to public transport is only taken up by a few people. They have learnt that they will be safer in their own car.
A changed world?
China will be the winner of the crisis because it can and will sell itself as a "model" for successful state action. China has shown that it can provide medical equipment faster and cheaper than others. China has offered financial aid to developing countries. The help is gladly accepted by states in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Europe and even by Italy. And not to forget, China will sell its surveillance digital technologies worldwide.
In Europe there will be no major changes. What will be different? The Corona crisis will slow down physical globalisation and accelerate digital globalisation. Digital social networks will dominate social communication even more. Supply chains will become more regional. On-line learning will see winners and losers. The state will regain importance and the market economy will become more social. The principle of subsidiarity will win new friends. All this is certainly good news for planners and designers.
After the epidemic is over, all the spatial transformations that globalisation, digitalisation and environmental concerns bring with it will gradually continue to take place, albeit at different speeds. Parts of the public sector (health care, police, military) will experience an unexpected increase in importance. After the crisis, learning from Donald Trump, many countries, including the UK, France and Germany will pursue an economic policy under the label "My country First" with all the consequences this has for local and regional economies. Most of the changes, i.e. strengthening the health care system, strengthening the police and military, digitilalisation of education, will only marginally impact urban or regional development. Those cities and regions will emerge stronger from the crisis that were already economically successful in the field of digitalisation and health care, both in terms of production and services. Other developments will receive even more tailwind and political support, such as consumption and production of organic products, digitalisation of education and public services, e-shopping, e-culture etc,
The enormous media attention of the crisis will gradually decrease and the public sector will soon switch "back to normal". Though afterwards the corona crisis will certainly be used or abused by many actors to push through individual interests. This will result in new priorities in public budgets, in hospitals and old people's homes, in the education sector and of course in local economic policy. The solidarity, so often conjured up during the crisis, will soon be history, because previous behaviour patterns (i.e. individualisation of society) will return.
The spatial disparities between urban and rural areas (beyond urban regions though also within urban regions) will continue to increase. Due to their better job options and the equipment with health care facilities and better access to digital services, urban regions will experience a further influx of people. Foreign migrants will prefer to settle down in urban environments. Dreams of digital decentralisation after the crisis will not come true. Respective hopes will not come true.
To read my own take on CV19 and Planning click here. To read a report from India on the situation there, click here. My article in The Scotsman on 10 April 2020 on how CV19 might reshape cities can be read here.