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We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.
Markers on the floors like the ones municipal workers are painting outside a store in India can help people keep their social distance even as public spaces reopen.
Markers on the floors like the ones municipal workers are painting outside a store in India can help people keep their social distance even as public spaces reopen.Indranil Mukherjee/AFP via Getty Images

As the dreaded coronavirus bolts across the globe, city after city has locked down, transforming urban business centers and suburban malls alike into veritable ghost towns. Our cities can’t stay in lockdown indefinitely. The economic costs — never mind the toll on our society and our mental health — is just too devastating. But the reality is we can’t just hit a reset button and revert to how things were before. This pandemic, like all great pandemics, threatens to reappear in subsequent waves over the next year to eighteen months, until we find a vaccine or develop herd immunity. Even as cities focus on a full-out mobilization of required health and medical resources to cope with the first phase of this pandemic, it is important they get prepared safely and securely for the future, too.

There are several key changes states and cities, mayors, governors and community leaders must focus on, based on research I conducted with my colleague Steven Pedigo of the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs, to get back up and running.