San Francisco is toying with a soft reopening from quarantine. It’s a tricky business. There’s a real risk of a Covid-19 boomerang as other cities and rural areas are beginning to exhibit. But people simply can’t be made to stay at home forever. Immediate friends and neighbors like mine are taking baby steps by selectively making their household bubbles slightly bigger. We meet in the back garden for social distance lite. Quarantini.
The neighborhood is once again full of folks eager to get out and enjoy the things that make the city worth living in. They want their coffee and drinks and food. But mostly they just want to be out in the world with other people. The summer solstice makes for pleasant outdoor dining and the city has made special accommodations for sidewalk seating and slightly modified liquor laws. If the city expects local establishments to survive and generate any tax revenue at all they need to bend a little. This is especially true since all the tourists and business travelers are now gone.
Notice the subtle interpretations of what constitutes indoors vs. outdoors. A canvas and plastic annex on an old parking lot is al fresco and packed while the brick and mortar restaurant next to it is take out only. Couldn’t they just open all the windows and get a similar effect? But such are the negotiations of the day.
Social distancing requires most shops to function as de facto food trucks serving everything through a Dutch door and behind plexiglass sneeze guards. This works for the places that are still semi-viable economically. I estimate that half the shops in the neighborhood are closed for good at this point and it remains to be seen how many of the remainders will still be operating six months from now. Perhaps the ones that survive will be all the stronger as a result, but it’s too soon to tell.
The quarantine comes at a time when commercial rents had already driven a significant number of shops out of business. It’s a complex puzzle of investment forces, tax policy, land use zoning, government regulations, intense competition, new technology, and changing demographics. The majority interpretation of the pandemic at the moment is that cities will dry up as the population flees to the suburbs. In many instances I suspect that’s true. But the people I know who remain in town are eager to get back to a life of interaction rather than isolation. We’re the oddball self selecting folks who are willing to stick it out warts and all. If that means we get to enjoy a slightly reduced version of the old city we’re okay with that. The city isn’t for everyone, but it suits us just fine.