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November 10, 2020

Stepping Out Into Technicolor

Kevin Bussett


Seven months into the pandemic, we've seen our fair share of predictions about how the pandemic will permanently and positively alter the world. We've paid special attention to changes that affect local government, the built environment, and the workplace and have collected our favorites in this round of "post-COVID" prognostications.

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Squatters Are Right

Peoplewatching from a sidewalk café is one of life's simple pleasures. In Denmark, cafés offer blankets for patrons during the winter. Yet despite its potential for year-round alfresco dining, San Diego has only installed two parklets (sidewalk cafés in parking spaces) since 2013. Unpermitted sidewalk cafés have proliferated during the pandemic as restaurants and bars replace off-limits indoor seating. In July, San Diego's mayor issued an executive order limiting the enforcement of sidewalk café code violations. It is classic tactical urbanism (or short term, small scale, scalable interventions) and heartening to watch business owners build the kind of vibrant public domain that Americans have been eyeing for decades. I am optimistic that this will permanently loosen city regulations and prove to nervous business improvement districts that a better shopping and dining experience is more valuable than a few on-street parking spaces. 

A recently installed parklet along University Avenue in North Park, San Diego, offers patrons outdoor dining without taking over the sidewalk.

Zombie Malls Mutate

A common theme is the pandemic accelerating emerging trends, like the demise of buffets (RIP Souplantation) and the abandonment of mega malls. As Matt Levin of CalMatters reports, one silver lining of the pandemic is the potential for big box stores and shopping malls to convert to new mixed-use housing. A recent state senate bill would streamline the approval process for developers to build on land zoned for office parks or retail. An example is occurring in San Diego at the newly dubbed “Mira Mesa Town Center.”

The new Mira Mesa Town Center would redevelop areas currently used for surface parking or retail stores, and either retain the major anchor stores or replace them.

Revival of the Funnest 

Economist Robert Schiller writes in the New York Times that, faced with widespread closures and poverty during the Depression, even people with money no longer felt a pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" and voluntarily embraced austerity. Faced with the inability to buy expensive season tickets and re-acclimated to slower, smaller, affordable outdoor family gatherings, society may be primed for the revival of an American institution - Mini Golf. This is good news for the recently reincarnated Family Fun Center in Kearny Mesa. The original owners have re-modeled the property, which operated from 1974-1998 and then as Boomers until last year, starting with the two 18-hole storybook and Western miniature golf courses. 

Family Fun Center Kearny Mesa's renovated miniature golf-courses offer a new generation of children socially distanced opportunities to smack balls into oncoming freeway traffic. 

Set Your Clocks Back to Island Time

The "work from home mullet" - business on top, casual on the bottom - is now a tired trope of the early pandemic. But advocacy for comfortable business attire predates dress yoga pants. In the 1950's, the Hawaiian Fashion Guild launched "Operation Freedom" and encouraged members of the Hawaiian legislature to ditch their starched shirts for upscale, well-tailored Aloha shirts on "Aloha Friday," the precursor to Casual Friday. Professionals re-entering the office after a long haitus will be reticent to resume dress codes and we predict that, combined with staggered schedules, every day will be Casual Friday and a boon to Aloha Shirt aficionados everywhere (like me.)


The King enjoys a more sophisticated, better-tailored Aloha shirt introduced by companies like Reyn Spooner.

The New 9-5 (9pm to 5am)

With many workplaces (including ours) now operating remotely, work hour flexibility is part necessity, part blessing, and part curse. But as CNBC explains, if it becomes a long-term trend, it could allow more women to remain in the workforce while balancing childcare schedules, since women are more likely than men to adjust their careers for family. Studio E is over half women, and half parents. Flexibility and work/life balance have been core values for a long time but remote working has not been widely implemented until now. For those without children, many are happily finding new ways to use the time added to their schedules in the absence of the daily commute. 

Between daycare drop-off, pickup, dinner, and bedtime, many working parents clock a respectable 81.5 minutes of uninterrupted work before 9pm each day.