Beyond the immediate health and economic emergencies, the societal implications of the Corona pandemic are likely to persist and evolve into 'a new normal'. The pandemic changed lifestyles and social norms in diverse ways. Some trends were already in place and were accelerated or intensified, such as digitalization and mindful consumption. Digitalization cut across all domains of social practice: remote working, remote education, online entertainment and online delivery services. Digital network availability and usability became more important than physical accessibility as people were asked to stay home. Other trends were decelerated, challenged, reversed or frozen, including collaborative consumption, the sharing economy, reuse and recycling. Some trends were unexpected, such as the transformation of the home to the central stage for the multiple roles and activities of a household.
Emerging trends affecting consumption patterns and social connectivity could evolve in different directions; their implications for the future are outlined in four scenarios termed: revenge consumption, social immersion, gregarious simplifiers and click rebels.
Responses to these trends have very significant implications for the future of the individual and the home, the community and the neighborhood and the future structure and function of cities. The community-grid-based city governance approach in China, for example, was crucial to its response. In many countries, particularly in the US, higher income residents of cities moved out to suburban, small town or rural locations, where they were able to maintain their earning capacity online, leaving city centers empty and inner suburbs of lower income and essential workers. Less commuting and lower greenhouse gas emissions during lockdowns were accompanied by increasingly unsustainable social and economic disparities.
The outstanding feature of societal organization which evolved during the pandemic was the importance given to the quality of neighborhood facilities, community activities and local amenities. Cities are now reconsidering what their future looks like as digitalization and decentralization change patterns and locations of activities and revise needs for physical transportation. Several are adopting the concept of the 15 minute city, where lifestyles focus around a local neighborhood.
Will future lifestyles be more sustainable, more resilient to extreme events and better able to cope with risk and uncertainty ? The pandemic offered an opportunity to change lifestyles from the overwhelming consumer society, which was consciously promoted after WW2 by governments together with business and the advertisement industry to revive the economy. Trends today indicate that people are reevaluating what is important to their lives but governments are pushing recovery packages to revive personal expenditure to stimulate the economy, even if they are 'greener'.
Valerie Brachya is former Deputy Director General for Policy and Planning of the Israel Ministry for Environmental Protection. She is a lecturer at the Porter School for Earth Sciences and Environment in Tel Aviv University and a research associate at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. She initiated and established environmental planning in the land use planning system in Israel and introduced sustainability into government policy. She was a member of the National Board for Planning and Building and was head or member of Israeli delegations on environment to international negotiations and meetings, including during Israel's accession to the OECD, UNEP Governing Council, UN CSD, the Mediterranean Action Plan and to bilateral and multilateral negotiations in the Middle East.
Sustainable Lifestyles after Covid, co-authored by Echegaray, F., Brachya, V., Vergragt, P., Zhang, L., Routledge, 2021, due to be released on April 23 2021