Coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the world. The crisis is currently changing our lives to an extent that we have never experienced before. Emily Schlickman, assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental design at the University of California, Davis reports on how the lockdown and the stay-at-home-orders are having an impact on urban life in Davis, California.
On March 17th seven million people were ordered to shelter-in-place in the state of California.
On March 18th that number tripled to 21 million.
On March 19th it became 40 million.
Today, every resident of California is required to stay at home indefinitely, as there is no official termination date for the order. Exceptions to the mandate include residents working in “critical infrastructure sectors”, as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and residents embarking on “essential” errands like grocery shopping, caring for a loved one, or accessing healthcare. Residents can still go outside, but must stay at least six feet away from others.
This tactic, one of the strongest in the United States, is a last ditch effort to flatten the curve in a state where COVID-19 has been projected to potentially infect 56% of residents over the course of just eight weeks. Many have compared this anxious waiting period to the brace of an impending hurricane, but perhaps this analogy isn’t quite right. Do we know how wide this hurricane really is? Do we know its average wind speed? Do we know where the “eye” is? Or if an “eye” even exists? For the most part, this is an invisible storm and it has already made landfall, lurking in our communities far longer than we even know.
So what are the urban implications of this pandemic pause? Here, in Davis, California, a college town located between San Francisco and Sacramento, real-time data to help answer this question is hard to come by. But we do have a few clues.
En route to a pharmacy a few days ago, I snapped some photos of the city as it was bracing for the unknown. The images that came from this exercise are only remarkable in what is missing from their frames: social life. The city had not only metaphorically and legally paused, it had paused physically. This is what I observed.
Buses that typically carry over 50 passengers per hour, had only one or two riders. Downtown parking lots that are often at capacity, were more than 75% vacant. Bike counters were registering just 25% of a typical daily tally, bike racks were empty, and shared bikes had completely disappeared (I found out later that they had been pulled from the streets for fear of contributing to the spread). I saw just one Uber, which, after a quick check on my phone, was one of two car-share vehicles in the city. About 70% of the downtown businesses had closed their doors. The rest had turned over their furniture to deter people from lingering. In the pharmacy, many of the shelves were empty. All antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer and toilet paper were out of stock.
Davis, like many other communities across California, is unaware of what the next few days, weeks, or months might bring. In the meantime, we will remain on pause.