Community and Economic Development in a COVID World

By Rex L. LaMore, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Community and Economic Development

There is a phenomenon in the planning literature called a “Black Swan.”1 A black swan is an unpredictable, rare event of such a significant magnitude that it can change the course of history and in retrospect is often seen as totally predictable. We are experiencing such an event now with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has affected our daily lives in almost every conceivable way—where and how we work, how we interact with others, how we teach and learn, our economy, our democracy and much more. Our world has changed in an unforeseeable, sudden way but in retrospect we knew at some level that a global pandemic was not only likely but probable. We have lost friends and loved ones to the virus and our collective uncertainty about what the future is likely to bring is unpalatable in the extreme.

While we are still experiencing the day-to-day tribulations of the pandemic there may be lessons that we might learn to help us create a more just and sustainable future for our communities. We can hope, from the traumatic events we are experiencing, that we will emerge at some point in the future smarter and better able to survive future “black swans.”

To help us along that path I offer the following observations to the “thinkers and doers” in the field of community and economic development. These observations are drawn from my four-plus decades of work in the field, my familiarity with change and the processes that lead to change within communities, and my recent experiences with the impacts of the pandemic on people and places. Some are substantive and perhaps unachievable, and some may be inconsequential, but they are all offered in the spirit of hope that something good can come from this human tragedy we are experiencing.

We are social beings, and as such connecting and caring for others is critical. Virtual connectivity is better than no connectivity, but it is not always sufficient. On the other hand, we are adaptable, and we are learning to accommodate different ways of “being” and “doing.”

Not all voices are heard in the virtual world. There are real barriers to participation, which for community developers should always be a concern. Some lack access, some lack skills to access. We need to commit to creating a 21st Century global communications infrastructure that removes these barriers to participation.

The global supply chain has weaknesses that have been demonstrated in this pandemic. Our challenge as community and economic development professionals is to strengthen to the extent feasible our local/regional supply chains so communities can become more self-reliant. 

While local self-reliance is important, if we have learned nothing else from this pandemic, we must recognize that we are one planet and that some of our future challenges will require a global response and international collaboration.

The pandemic has highlighted many of our racial, social, and economic inequities. It has also shown us that these inequities weaken our capacity as a community to respond in a timely and effective manner. We must work to overcome these inequities wherever they exist to be able to survive future catastrophes, whether natural or manmade.

Our future as a species or a democracy is not guaranteed. Each of us must strive to do our best to “form a more perfect union."2 Let us be wise enough to learn from this harsh lesson that we are experiencing and recommit to create that more perfect union for ourselves and our posterity.



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