SFU hosts online panel to discuss what the economy could look like after COVID-19

Five presenters examined how city economies have been shaken by the pandemic

Experts have predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long term impacts on city economies. (Wikimedia Commons)

Upwards of 100 people tuned in on Nov. 25 to “Pandemonium: The Post COVID-19 Urban Economy”, a lecture series hosted by Simon Fraser University Public Square and Urban Studies.

The pandemic has shone a light on the problems or issues that were already existing in cities that need to be addressed and improved, says Peter Hall, the moderator of the event and a professor of Urban Studies at SFU.

“Some of the responses are short term, and they’re just about getting past the immediate crisis, but we are changing some things, [and] are potentially laying a template for how we’re going to do things differently in the future.”

Matti Siemiatycki, a professor and the interim director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, started the panel with discussing housing and local businesses.

“The property market, ironically, in many parts of the country at least, has actually picked up through the pandemic as people are looking for different types of places to live. And for many people, being at home is causing them to rethink their living arrangements,” said Siemiatycki.

Many city downtown cores resemble “ghost towns,” he said, as businesses have either shifted to working from home or may have been forced to pack up.

Lynsey Thornton, managing director of USA West at Shopify, said that their business is trying to support their own employees working from home, while also supporting other businesses in “the fight of their lives.”

For Shopify, this has meant helping over a million businesses around the world adapt to the sudden shift to online shopping, she said.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services and co-chair of Feminists Deliver, highlighted in her presentation that the economic goal should be to transform from the pandemic, not to necessarily “recover.”

She sees that the pandemic could be used as a “portal” for transformation from our old ways.

“My biggest concern is that if we leave it to traditional ways of moving through a challenge like this, we could be in the place of not only returning to, but entrenching troubling structural inequities,” McDougall said. “It is vitally necessary that we de-centre the structural frame that we’ve worked from until this point, and to build equity into the system from the bottom.”

Wade Grant, a member of the Musqueam Nation who works in intergovernmental relations, talked about how the community has successfully begun to negotiate returns of land, which they have been made to buy back.

They have joined with the Squamish Nation and Tsleil Waututh Nation to create the MST Development Corporation to ensure that their economy “goes ahead in a positive way,” said Grant.

With the land, they are planning to invest into real estate to build more rental and social housing, and do so in a way that considers the environment.

Tamara Vrooman, CEO of YVR and chancellor of SFU, then spoke about how she felt the aviation industry was lagging behind others in terms of addressing climate change and sustainability and hopes to see changes once the crisis of COVID-19 passes.

Moderator Peter Hall says that he was pleased with the directions the panel went and encourages students to come out to these free events for some “brain food” on topics that are emerging from the pandemic.

To find out about future lectures in the Pandemonium series, check out their website.

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