Sponsor Spotlight – Rammy Urban Infill:
This month, we are showcasing the work of Rammy Cortez and his newly formed company Rammy Urban Infill.
Last week I was contacted by the San Diego Union-Tribune to discuss the visible changes we’ve seen in the regional landscape since the emergency shutdown, and what these changes are telling us about where we live. Could it lead to more permanent changes in the future? See article here.
To represent a diverse set of experiences, I reached out to a number of ULI members – they live in different areas of San Diego county, work in different fields related to land-use and real estate. Some are dealing with young children at home and the challenges of home-schooling while working from home. Others are single. Many still have active projects under construction. Some work for cities. And others are dealing with challenges of closing retail establishments or downsizing their business.
What becomes clear is the changes that were already in motion have been supercharged by the pandemic. As Tony Pauker (Brookfield) said, “The unfortunate but true – this will accelerate the permanent closing of businesses that pre-COVID were not viable. Underperforming retail will close and never re-open as retail, but the space will be repurposed.” The way we work may change forever and, most importantly, the impact is not being felt equally among all San Diegans.
On a positive note, slowing down, being less distracted, spending time in one place has led people to become more aware of what immediately surrounds them. Here are four themes that came through our conversations.
One: Rediscovering our Neighborhoods
People are meeting neighbors for the first time; the bonds of community are enhanced. “Now it’s about where I live vs. where I can drive to”.
Justine Nielsen’s (Procopio) story is indicative of my own experience and others that people shared: “In my neighborhood, built in the 1950s and 1960s, we have seen remarkable changes. A once relatively sleepy neighborhood has come alive with families enjoying their community. The suburban streets and sidewalks are filled with people riding bikes, joggers, and those walking their pets. More people are walking to the market located in a nearby shopping center (a rarity pre-COVID)…Perhaps in an effort to feel some semblance of human connection, we are spending more time in our front yard. We’ve been getting to know neighbors we previously only waved to in passing as we drove home after a long day at the office. It’s always been a great neighborhood but now there is a palpable sense of community. I hope it doesn’t fade after we all get back to normal, whatever that may look like.”
But exploring one’s neighborhood also highlights the disparities of where we live. Not everyone enjoys safe streets, walkable distances, or easy access to services.
Two: The Value of Public Space
When we’re out walking the value and quality of the places around us become more pronounced. A local park, public plaza, nearby beach, canyon trail or open space are havens of escape. A place to enjoy San Diego’s incredible natural and, in some cases manmade, beauty. Places that allow us to decompress with appropriate social distancing are increasingly important – for everyone. It’s a good time to take stock of the quality of those places. Are they equal to the “finest-city” status our city loves to claim? Or are they lacking? Are we, as a region, willing to prioritize investment in better public space infrastructure?
Three: The Office of the Future
Suddenly working from home is actually working better than many companies had anticipated. Our experience is proving that the purpose of the workplace may be permanently shifting. As Bill Fulton (Rice University) stated in our webinar last week, the highest ROI of the office are as places to meet and collaborate; much of the actual “work” is place-agnostic.
We anticipate local businesses will be asking, “Can more work be done from home? How much space do we really need? Can we cut the travel line-item when a Zoom meeting may suffice?” The degree to which the impact of any change is felt will have a trickledown effect on commute patterns, job centers, neighborhoods, and homes. It has huge implications for mobility, urban planning, and service retail. Gary Halbert (City of Chula Vista) observed that perhaps we could finally realize some of the earlier promise of tele-commuting – fewer cars on the road and better air quality. With more people working from home, neighborhood-based retail and alternate adjacent workspaces become more desirable. The kitchen table, while acceptable during the pandemic, is no long-term home office solution.
Four: The New Demands of Home
During the past two months home has become office, school, restaurant, movie theater, and place to hunker down. Children will go back to school, eventually we will eat out again, and entertainment venues will reopen, but what aspects of this temporary lifestyle might make us rethink home design? Do those big open floorplans allow for enough private space? Micro-units with shared amenities (that are now mostly shut-down) are not ill-conceived, but how can they be made more adaptable? How do we accommodate and secure deliveries of everything from food to clothing to office supplies? I am confident when the design teams for new residential/multi-family projects convene that these concerns will be featured in their conversations.
Look for more insights from local ULI members as we continue the discussion.