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Changing lifestyles in response to the Corona pandemic

Valerie Brachya

The media have recognized and reported on changes in lifestyles in response to the Corona pandemic, social distancing and lockdown (The Marker 2.6.20, Hebrew). Online shopping, remote working, discovering the local neighborhood and spending pleasurable time within the nuclear family are changes likely to stay. 

Social Implications of the Corona Pandemic

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Surveys by Mckinsey, Accenture, Gehl and others who gathered responses to the pandemic from around the world, point to ‘the new next’ or the ‘new normal’.

These surveys (McKinsey, Accenture and others) and country case studies (Brazil, China, Israel and New Zealand) are revealing the ongoing social implications of the pandemic, beyond the success or failure of countries in protecting the health of their populations. Social distancing, restrictions on getting together and the accelerated uptake of online availability of goods, services and entertainment, are changing some basic assumptions about lifestyles. Some reveal common problems not satisfactorily addressed during the pandemic, such as anxiety, depression and loneliness. Others point to ‘the new normal’ and will influence how we live and what we choose.  New social norms and revised choice architecture will change the role and design of the home, which may now be disconnected from the location of the workplace and from commercial centers, and change the functions relevant to a vibrant city center, some of which are now being lost.

The’ New Normal’

Governments however seem to be missing the point. They are seeking how to return as quickly as possible to the ‘old normal’. This is a moment of change which could be harnessed for a transition to quality lifestyles which are not focused on getting to the office, traffic jams, shopping in malls and multiple flights. Neither are influential international organizations such as the OECD reorienting stimulus packages towards the ‘new normal’. The OECD issued a policy document on 5 June, ‘Build Back Better’ to promote sustainable and resilient recovery from the economic implications of the pandemic. The organization assumes that the economy will recover and rebound and recommends that governments could obtain a double dividend if they invested recovery budgets in strengthening resilience to climate change as well as in preparing for future pandemics or other disasters. However the OECD does not want governments to interfere in consumer choice and therefore prefers time bounded support for business and consumers to overcome the immediate crisis and to stimulate mass consumption.

Opportunity for Better Post Corona Lifestyles

An international network of researchers and practitioners in sustainable consumption (SCORAI) has for years promoted the notion that the goals of sustainability and the reduction of global warming will only be achieved if there is a major transformation of lifestyles to ones which are far less materialistic and generate far less emissions. Their vision of changing lifestyles suddenly arrived overnight. Many people found new happiness and pleasures in life without constantly seeking new purchases:  connections across balconies and streets strengthened communities around local neighborhoods and parents have found pleasure in family life in exchange for long distance commuting. Why should we give up such pleasures to boost the economy back to over consumerism?

At its annual conference in June this year held online, the SCORAI network connected researchers and practitioners across the world  to discuss future patterns of consumption and their social and environmental implications. One session related to the implications of the pandemic on sustainable lifestyles and consumption, in which speakers from Brazil, Israel, China and New Zealand presented a comparison of country responses and experiences and their implications for policy and planning. Country responses were very different, from the total and enforced lock down in the area affected in China, with almost total compliance and trust by the population in central government, to the very partial lock down in Brazil, with some compliance and trust in local but not in central government. However lifestyle responses were similar, with China leading the transition to getting and doing everything online, Brazil experiencing a strong growth in local neighborhood level initiatives and all, including New Zealand (with only 22 deaths in a population of 5 million), identifying increased reports of loneliness and mental health issues. All stressed the need for strengthening social capital and social resilience in post – Corona lifestyles.

One direction for policy research in social resilience relates to to increasing governmental intervention, such as the provision of ‘universal basic services’, as opposed to distributing money as ‘universal basic income’.  Government investment in providing equal access to free or low cost high quality health, education, public transportation, culture and social support systems for all ages, with good physical infrastructures and innovative and devoted well paid staff may be a clue to which countries will cope best with the next crisis. New Zealand has perhaps shown the way with an excellent record during the current pandemic, a high level of trust in government and a national focus on wellbeing, not on economic growth.

Another direction points to the importance of the local neighborhood community level, which was the crucial level in providing local groceries, local green spaces , local sport and entertainment and local voluntary support systems.

Both directions, top down and bottom up, would significantly contribute to’ building back better’ with social capital.

 More about Covid-19’s impacts – Read on our Blog Here

More on urban sustainability Here