Derek Thompson of The Atlantic was interviewed today on NPR’s Here and Now program discussing how the pandemic will change local economies. He also wrote about it in an article The Atlantic published today that notes the pandemic is already accelerating pre-existing trends: more online shopping, big businesses crushing small retailers, independent restaurants being replaced by chain take-out food, and an economy based on delivery that favors huge companies like Amazon. His article sings a kind of death-spiral song with the chorus boding ill for vibrant downtowns and urban diversity. In the interview, though, he was optimistic about an eventual renaissance if urban real estate prices become affordable such that immigrant entrepreneurs can open stores and restaurants in once-vacant buildings - particularly if the housing stock is expanded.
Admittedly, the article and interview are biased towards old, big cities on the East Coast like New York and Boston. (NPR is headquartered in a Washington D.C. Edge City and Boston is home to both the Atlantic and the Here and Now program’s station, WBUR.) Yet there are meaningful take-aways for our beloved Arden Arcade. Our community is used to the demise of retail commerce. We’re sort of leading-edge, aren’t we? Thanks to our County’s lack of vision, we have already become bland and boring. On the one hand, our housing situation remains awkward for new residents (low-end apartments vs expensive legacy tract homes, nothing really in-between) and the County’s approach to land use and economic development, which is to passively accept any development proposal, favors short-term profits for the few instead of community-wide sustainability over the long term. On the other hand, our community is loaded with new residents and immigrants. There have been some attempts to broaden retail diversity - witness Taste of Jerusalem on Fulton, Babylon Market on Watt and the coming-soon Afghani-fusion restaurant on Marconi. Can businesses like that survive? Will they thrive?
In the interview, Thompson alluded to the importance of local leadership for fulfillment of the economic re-birth outcome. Achievement of strategic goals and objectives would be one thing if we were a city like Citrus Heights or Galt, but we’re not. Unlike cities, the County reigns supreme over local land use and economic development here. Our invisible unincorporated community cannot control it. Ours is something of a blank slate, with someone else holding all the chalk. A massive and prolonged reformation of thinking across the river at County Hall isn’t likely. So what prospects do we have here? And, most importantly, what would you like to see?