2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

September 16, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

How to build resilience in a pandemic? Lean on each other.

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In a time of a global pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, and job or housing loss, what helps people and societies get through it all?

Here’s one answer: building trust and relationships. 

John Helliwell, co-editor of the 2020 U.N. World Happiness Report, tells CNN that societies with high mutual trust – in each other and their governments – are more likely to be resilient. He points to Norway and New Zealand as examples of countries with measurably high trust and cooperation that have kept the coronavirus at bay.

Trusted, enduring governments tend to excel in two areas: democratic rights and delivery quality. Of the two, according to the World Happiness Report, the unselfish exercise of power – delivering on fair regulations and services and stopping corruption – is most important in creating a trustworthy relationship with citizens. Similarly, individual resiliency is built on relationships.

An eight-decade-long Harvard University study of men found that the most important factor for longevity wasn’t wealth, fame, IQ, or social class. “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period,” Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, told Inc. 

We’ve seen a bit of that lately in my own family. The lockdowns spawned weekly Zoom meetings, which have helped restore broken relationships and are serving as a source of ideas and encouragement.

Supporting a neighbor or family member in difficult times, it seems, fosters resiliency. For humanity to survive, says Professor Helliwell, our “leaders must broaden our capacity to help one another.”

Free assembly vs. public safety: US mayors making it work

After months of civil disorder, our reporters asked some city leaders how they’re making progress on demands by protesters. Also, what are the best practices for dealing with protests?

David
Noah Berger/AP
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks to Black Lives Matter protesters on July 22, 2020. Despite months of headline-grabbing racial injustice protests marred by vandalism, chaos, and shooting deaths, the mayor has listened to protesters and engineered sometimes less-noticed reform.

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After a summer of protests, rage is still flowing. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, erupted in riots this week after a police shooting. And in Los Angeles, a gunman shot two sheriff’s deputies in their patrol car on Saturday, sparking protests against the officers at the hospital treating them and at LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home.

Mayors face a tricky balancing act in what has been the costliest civil disorder in U.S. history – guaranteeing the right to free speech and assembly, while maintaining public safety. 

Mayors set the tone but can be targeted by protesters: Not just Mayor Garcetti’s home was set upon, but those of mayors in Portland, Oregon; St. Louis; Chicago; Seattle; and Pittsburgh.

The key to managing the disorder, say mayors and observers, is real, noticeable reform, and strong communication with the public and stakeholders, including law enforcement.

But, while mayoral power is often limited, from a legal perspective, some cities are making progress on reforms demanded by protesters and in best practices for dealing with the protests themselves. This may not be widely noticed, says Christopher Shortell, a political science professor at Portland State University, “because it’s a lot more dramatic to see the mattress that’s burning.”

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1. Free assembly vs. public safety: US mayors making it work

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has been getting it from all sides. 

After more than 80 days of protests over racial injustice and policing, one of the city’s biggest real estate developers emailed the mayor and his City Council colleagues last month, warning about businesses leaving because of the “lawlessness you are endorsing downtown.” Many businesses in the city core are still boarded up – and now shrouded in smoke from wildfires. 

Over the summer, protesters against police brutality and racial injustice sporadically demonstrated at the mayor’s condominium. When a large crowd broke windows, sprayed graffiti, and set fires at his building on Aug. 31, he announced he’d be moving.  

As Alison Gash, a Portlander and political science professor at the University of Oregon, puts it: Mayor Wheeler is “in a tough spot.”

And so are mayors nationwide, as they grapple with concerns about police brutality and systemic racism during a sharply divided presidential election season. It’s a tricky balancing act – guaranteeing constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, while maintaining public safety when demonstrations turn violent or destructive.

After a summer of protests, rage is still flowing, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where demonstrators were arrested this week for vandalism and rioting after a police shooting, to Los Angeles, where a gunman shot two sheriff’s deputies in their patrol car on Saturday. At the hospital where the deputies were being treated, protesters shouted “death to the police” – which LA Mayor Eric Garcetti called “abhorrent.”

While mayors set a tone and are targeted by protesters – indeed, protesters have set upon not just Mayor Wheeler’s residence but Mayor Garcetti’s and those of mayors in St. Louis, Chicago, Seattle, and Pittsburgh – the power of mayors is relatively limited, from a legal perspective at least, in many cities. 

But despite the costliest civil disorder in U.S. history, four months into the protests, some cities are making progress on both the reforms demanded by protesters and in best practices of dealing with the protests themselves. 

Burning mattresses obscure progress

For example, in Portland, late-night confrontations with law enforcement, a July showdown with federal forces, and the fatal shooting of a man affiliated with a right-wing group by a self-proclaimed anti-fascist on Aug. 29 have obscured progress on racial justice, says Christopher Shortell, a political science professor at Portland State University. 

That progress includes a series of police accountability measures passed by the Oregon Legislature in June, and a $62 million fund for “Black Relief and Resiliency” to support Black individuals, nonprofits, and businesses especially hard hit by the pandemic. Portland is discontinuing the use of armed police officers in high schools and redirecting some police funds to communities of color.

“Constant political pressure is what has led to continued attention by elected officials, but that doesn’t get noticed because it’s a lot more dramatic to see the mattress that’s burning,” says Professor Shortell. He cites a “significant disconnect” between the national portrayal of Portland engulfed by chaos and the actuality of very localized, late-night clashes with law enforcement.

The key for city leaders managing these situations, say mayors and observers, is real, noticeable reform, and strong communication with the public and stakeholders, including law enforcement.

“It’s the external relationships, the dealing with the community, the media and so on, being seen as listening and acceptable, that’s the job of the mayor,” says Mark Funkhouser, a former mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. “It’s a very difficult job.”

Joshua Trujillo/Seattlepi.com/AP/File
Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, seen here in a 2009 City Council event at the Alaskan Way Viaduct, says during his seven-year tenure he faced 30 public demonstrations and had only one arrest because he changed policing procedures for these events.

When Greg Nickels became mayor of Seattle in 2002, it was just over a year after violent clashes between 50,000 protesters and police had overwhelmed the city during the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference. He was intent on ensuring the city never went through that again, the former Democratic mayor recalls.

He talked with his police chief about having officers in crowds to prevent mobs from forming, instead of in riot gear separated from the crowd. Before protests they would set clear “rules of engagement” for protesters: Free speech and civil disobedience rights would be respected, but unlawful behavior would not be tolerated.

In his seven years as mayor, Mr. Nickels says there were about 30 marches and protests – mostly about the Iraq War and immigration – and only one arrest. 

“We need to protect that free speech, but we have to build a little box around it that if there’s illegal action we have to deal with it,” he adds.

Mr. Nickels never would have turned over a portion of Seattle to “vigilantes” – whether of the right or left – referring to the “Chop” occupation (Capitol Hill Organized Protest) over the summer, he says. In early June, protesters staked out a six-block area around the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct headquarters.

Old-fashioned tool: Listen to protesters

But Mayor Jenny Durkan and then-Police Chief Carmen Best immediately began talking with protesters.

The city met some protester demands on policing, for example by restricting the use of crowd-control munitions. Ms. Durkan also dispatched a team to negotiate plans to facilitate traffic and rescue in the protest zone, shrinking the footprint while activism and street art continued. African American community leaders stepped in as violence in the zone escalated along with community complaints, and gradually protesters began to depart until only a small group remained around the precinct building. On July 1, police moved back in with limited opposition.

That old-fashioned tool – listening to protesters and acting on their concerns – is also a way to prevent violent protests.

Elaine Thompson/AP
As part of Seattle's broader efforts to reimagine the role of police officers in response to anti-racism and anti-police protests, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced at a Sept. 2, 2020, press conference the shift of 100 officers from specialty units to patrols to increase community engagement and speed up 911 response.

Austin, Texas, has seen protests against police brutality and racial inequality after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in late May. Though there have been a few incidents of violence and vandalism, the protests have been almost entirely peaceful. 

And Austin officials have begun to respond to protesters’ demands, including “trying to reimagine policing as a component of public safety,” says Steve Adler, the city’s mayor.

Most notably, the City Council last month passed a new budget that could reallocate tens of millions of dollars of police funds and functions to other city departments. One $80 million fund could see primarily civilian functions like forensics and victim services “decoupled” from the department. 

“Those are targeted, constructive things to do consistent with what our community wants us to do, freeing up time for our police to focus on real crime,” says Mayor Adler.

But with the protests and debate over police reform politicized by conservatives and progressives, mayors like Mr. Adler find themselves struggling to cut through the heated rhetoric. 

In Austin, progressives celebrated the new budget as a $150 million reallocation of police funding, while conservatives – including Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor – criticized it as a $150 million strike to “defund the police.” Both are technically wrong. Only about $20 million of the cuts are immediate, with the rest potentially being redirected in the future, and no clear timeline for if or when those funds will be redirected.

Mayor Adler, a Democrat, says rhetoric focusing on violence distracts from the main grievances of the protesters, along with other important issues like the country’s response to the pandemic.

“As we approach November, I think we’re going to hear more arguments that are intended to distract us from those kinds of issues by raising issues that would suggest that cities aren’t safe, or that mayors don’t care about safety,” says Mayor Adler.

On Sept. 2, President Donald Trump asked the Justice Department to develop a list of “anarchist jurisdictions” the federal government should seek to withhold funding from, a move criticized by major city mayors around the country as unlawful and intentionally divisive.

In the meantime, Mayor Wheeler announced he’s shedding some of his portfolio so he can focus on “extreme challenges” facing the city. Last week, he directed police not use one kind of tear gas, in part because it is seeping into people’s homes. But police noted they used it “sparingly” in “life-safety” events.

In many cities mayors act mostly as the head of the city council and have limited ability to take policy or executive actions themselves. Day-to-day operations – including public safety – are the purview of city managers.

Even Mr. Wheeler, who is in effect the police commissioner, had to set up a new process to put three suspect police officers on administrative duty last week because the independent review board is so backed up with complaints, explains Professor Shortell.

And for most mayors, particularly ones of medium and small towns, there hasn’t been much rioting or looting to deal with. One analysis by the U.S. Crisis Monitor found that in over 10,000 protests between May 24 and Aug. 22, approximately 5% involved violence.

And yet the cost of damage from vandalism and looting in protests across 140 cities after the May 25 death of Mr. Floyd has been significant – between $1 billion and $2 billion from May 26 to June 8, according to the Insurance Information Institute.  

Professor Shortell reminds that policy changes come more slowly than the public wants. Indeed, a recent survey by the Portland firm DHM Research found that a majority of Oregon voters disapprove of how elected leaders – President Trump, Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, and Mr. Wheeler – have responded to protests in the United States and Oregon.

It’s also hard to sustain pressure for change. Protests that were thousands strong in Portland dwindled to hundreds, and the daily early evening “nonviolent protest” at Pioneer Courthouse Square downtown stopped being scheduled after Labor Day. 

While the police have not reported any violent clashes and arrests since Sept. 8, Sgt. Kevin Allen, a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, wrote in an email to the Monitor that poor air quality from wildfires may have discouraged protesters.

But he’s fairly certain about one thing: “We do anticipate more demonstrations will be coming leading up to the election.”

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report from Seattle.  

Patterns

Tracing global connections

Home-work: Not just kids’ stuff

Here’s the first of two stories today on the future of work, especially in cities. Our London columnist examines why some companies are experimenting to find the best work-home balance. 

David

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A new office building in London is exploring new post-COVID-19 ground. Instead of the standard open-plan design the developer had drawn up, it will be full of individual work pods, each fitted with a desk, video screen, refrigerator, and microwave. And a foldaway bed.

Is this the future of office work? Employees, worried about their health, are still reluctant to go back to their old offices. The work pods would keep them apart from one another. 

Many employees around the world say they would be happy to work from home two or three days a week. Employers say their workers are more productive than they used to be.

But that could be because two-thirds of them work weekends when they work from home. The home/work boundary is getting blurred. That is a real problem when you have small kids, or limited space, or both.

And something gets lost when nobody engages in old-fashioned face-to-face conversations anymore. It seems likely that firms and their employees will seek the best of both worlds, splitting their week between home and office.

However much life at home will have changed, there may be life in the old office yet.

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2. Home-work: Not just kids’ stuff

It was supposed to be just another glittery new office development in East London’s old docklands. You know the template: clusters of desks laid out in an open plan, an office or two for the execs, another room with a large table for group meetings.

But no longer. Now, the developer is going to fill the space with something dramatically different: thousands of individual “work pods,” each of them 10 square feet, with its own desk, video screen, refrigerator, and microwave. And a foldaway bed.

“Home offices” – like the ones in which hundreds of millions of people in major cities worldwide have been working during the pandemic. Only without the home.

It’s just one example of the profound impact the pandemic is having, not just on governments and national economies, but on working people around the globe. It reflects something else, too: a sense from London to New York and from Sydney to Dubai that some of the changes in how they live and work may be here to stay.

That sense has been growing in recent weeks as governments strive to restart their pandemic-struck economies. In many major cities, where lockdowns meant that all but essential employees were working from home, most businesses have been reluctant to attempt a full-scale move back to the office.

And large numbers of employees are saying they would prefer to keep working from home anyway.

Partly, that’s because they are worried about their health. The East London pod project is an attempt to answer those worries – keeping office workers physically isolated from one another – and similar strategies are being unveiled in other countries.

Many businesses are socially distancing office desks, installing partitions, limiting elevator use, and, of course, upping their cleanliness and disinfection game. Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is looking at its own version of the London developer’s fix: not full-scale “home” pods, but modular enclosures with facial recognition doors, each unit with its own ventilation and air-purification system.

Hannah McKay/Reuters
A woman looks at her laptop on a balcony of an apartment block in London in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Working from home has become commonplace for many employees and may become the norm even when the health threat has faded, some observers predict.

But even when the health dangers of the pandemic fade, it seems that many workers, and many businesses as well, see the advantage of prolonging the new approach to work forced on them by the lockdown. A study this month by the Cigna international health-insurance company surveyed people in 11 countries around the world. Over half the respondents said they would like to work from home for two or three days a week in the future.

If that happens, and the whole concept of office-based work is redefined, the effect on city business districts would be enormous. With far fewer people based in traditional office buildings, the retail businesses serving the people working in them would face a major hit.

But an even greater impact – and adjustment – would involve the millions of people working from home, and their new relationships with the businesses they work for.

This brave new working world – if it’s to prove sustainable – will have to find a whole new definition of work-life balance. So far, the arrangement has been working for many. But some have managed that balance better than others, and it is evident that key issues remain to be resolved.

In the lockdown version of home-work, the distinction between home and work has become blurred.

News reports from around the world in recent weeks have quoted business leaders as saying that most of their employees have been at least as productive as they were in the old office environment. But the Cigna study points to one possible reason why: Nearly 65% of respondents said that they were now working on weekends.

And not all home workers are created equal. For those who have been home-working in single-family homes, the experience has been incomparably easier than it is for those in small apartments, sometimes shared with others. Parents with young children have faced a further range of home-work challenges. Many young singles are finding their new home-based lives to be socially isolated and lonely.

In many traditional office-based businesses, there are formal structures to address issues such as working hours, holiday policies, time off, child care, and the mental-health problems caused by stress and isolation. It’s still far from clear how companies, as well as employment law, would adapt to a widespread, lasting shift to home-working.

Finally, there’s the question of what may be lost in a wholesale move away from the office model. Can Zoom or Skype conversations with colleagues really substitute for water-cooler chats and old-style human interaction? And what about the old assumption that ideas and creativity benefit from the natural, often informal, process of talking to co-workers face to face?

Businesses may be attracted to the idea of home-work. So may many of their employees. But both are already beginning to recognize that indefinite lockdown mode is unsustainable. It may well be that, after a period of experimentation, firms will settle on a mixed approach: Employees will work at home far more than they ever did before the pandemic, but they will go into the office as well a couple of days a week, so as to nurture the human bonds with their co-workers that virtual, dispersed offices cannot sustain.

However much life at home will have changed, there may be life in the old office yet.

US military draws a line: No more bias against pregnant soldiers

Pregnancy can be an amplifier of gender bias in the workplace. In the U.S. military, where this type of discrimination has been a problem, a new policy demands fair treatment for moms who serve.

David

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An Air Force officer had been voted by her unit as the No. 1 person they’d like to go to war with. She was told she was next in line for an instructor pilot upgrade – an important career step. But when her commanders found out she was pregnant, they took her off that list. 

“They didn’t even ask me,” says the lieutenant colonel, who asked not to be identified by name because of the potential impact on her career.

Such stories are too common in the U.S. armed forces, according to a Government Accountability Office report this year, concluding that pregnancy is one of the top reasons enlisted women leave the service.

This month, however, the Department of Defense banned discrimination against pregnant service members. The question moving forward is how to advance the culture so that military women – and men – can transform the workplace for the better.

“I feel a duty to make the Air Force stronger before I leave,” says Lt. Col. Jessica Ruttenber, who serves on the Air Force’s Women’s Initiative Team at the Pentagon.

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3. US military draws a line: No more bias against pregnant soldiers

One day shortly after Lt. Col. Jessica Ruttenber went back to work as an Air Force pilot following the birth of her first child in 2011, the controls on her jet started malfunctioning – an in-flight emergency. Unable to safely land, “I had to go up really high and start trouble-shooting for hours.” 

As the flight commander, she was well trained to solve complex problems in air. What was new was that back at home, she was breastfeeding and needed to pump regularly during the workday – an exigency she skipped during that flight. 

Ultimately, she touched down safely, “and as I relaxed, the milk just started flowing out of me,” drenching the front of her flight suit, she says. There were emergency responders, as well as the squadron commander, standing by on the flight line to meet her. “Luckily, I had a flight jacket on.” She zipped it up, greeted her colleagues, finished some paperwork in the office, and went home.

The incident could have convinced her to embrace formula. Instead, she realized it was important to be more “unapologetic” about the requirements of breastfeeding. “Even women that don’t have a job with four walls and a predictable schedule need to make their physiological needs a priority,” she says. “Had I communicated better with my crew and been more directive – instead of worrying about the stigma that comes along with lactation breaks – I would have pumped before walking out to the aircraft.” 

Moving forward, that’s what Colonel Ruttenber did – and she pumped on the aircraft as well when she needed to. 

In the years since, the Pentagon has acknowledged the call to make life more equitable for pregnant service members. In 2016, for example – five years after Colonel Ruttenber had her first child – the Defense Department mandated that the military create lactation spaces for women. 

Major step toward equality 

One year ago, the Air Force updated a policy for remotely piloted aircrew expecting babies. Previously restricted from flying drones, they can now continue to work without a special medical waiver. 

It was only this month, however, that the Department of Defense banned discrimination against pregnant service members outright – a major step toward equality for women in the armed forces, advocates say.

A report last year from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) had sounded the alarm against the “continued persistence of negative attitudes towards pregnancy and pregnant servicewomen in the military” and warned that these troops often experience “negative impacts on their career.” A study released in May from the U.S. Government Accountability Office bears this out, concluding that pregnancy is one of the top reasons enlisted women leave the service.

Now that the policy leap has come to pass, the question moving forward, advocates add, is how to advance the culture so that military women – and men – can transform the workplace for the better.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that this ban on discrimination means that those in senior positions are paying attention to the work of DACOWITS into things that aren’t working very well for women, for families,” says Kayla Williams, director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security. That said, she adds, “As in so many policy changes, the devil is in the implementation – local commands need to take it seriously.” 

“They didn’t even ask me”

One Air Force lieutenant colonel, who didn’t want to be identified because of the potential impact on her career, says she found that her commanders were not ill-intentioned. Quite the opposite, in fact. They were often kindly solicitous – and that’s where the problems started. 

When she became pregnant, she applied for and received a waiver to be in the cockpit during her second trimester. Her boss, however, refused to let her fly. “His wife had a difficult pregnancy, and he was protecting me. He’s a great guy, but he kind of removed my choice there, right? I wanted to fly, I wanted to contribute, but he took my choice away.” 

A 2020 Ph.D. study from Maj. Cary Balser, who works in the Air Force’s plans and programs office, found that removing pregnant women from the workplace – even if well-intentioned – will have negative impacts on their military careers.

The Air Force officer had been voted by her unit as the No. 1 person they’d like to go to war with – a notable nod in a male-dominated squadron. She was told she was next in line for an instructor pilot upgrade – an important step in her career. But when her commanders found out she was pregnant, they took her off that list. “They didn’t even ask me,” she says. 

After she had the second child, she asked for the upgrade again. “I said, ‘Here’s my mitigation plan. I have an on-call nanny. My husband and I share the load 50/50.” Their response: “‘A mom needs to be with her baby. You should take more time to recuperate.’ My supervisor told me, ‘My wife didn’t think straight for a year after she had a baby.’”

Ultimately, she decided to leave active duty and is now flying planes for a major airline, while continuing to serve as a reservist. And when she learned she was pregnant with her third child, she saw some considerable differences in how her two workplaces handled the news. The major airline congratulated her and told her they would make sure she didn’t have any routes that flew through zones with outbreaks of the Zika virus.

In her reserve job, meanwhile, she had been asked to be director of operations for her unit. After learning of her pregnancy, her supervisor continued to support her for the job – but his boss did not. “He said, ‘I’m a hard no against her [getting this job], because she’s going to take so much time off for maternity leave.’ My squadron commander, to his credit, was like, ‘I don’t think you can say that.’ ”

Up until this month he could – but not any more. “If that had happened today, I would have been able to say, ‘This is discrimination.’”

Colonel Ruttenber now serves on the Air Force’s Women’s Initiative Team at the Pentagon, where she is heartened by the strides the service has made in requiring lactation spaces and time to pump. She has considered leaving the service, too, to take a civilian job with better pay and more family time, she says. “But I feel a duty to make the Air Force stronger before I leave.” 

That may mean thinking more creatively to meet the challenges female troops face. The Coast Guard “sets a great example,” Colonel Ruttenber says, by paying to ship breast milk home when the member is at a temporary duty location. Bases could buy portable lactation pods for nontraditional work spaces, “like on the flight line,” she says. Public health troops could also do something as simple as track lactation spaces on bases and give the list to pregnant service members. 

Colonel Ruttenber thinks back to the early chats she had with her bosses about breastfeeding. “I was super uncomfortable, a little insecure, and a little emotional about it,” she says. But those feelings also brought to mind the challenges, embarrassments, and triumphs of the military women who paved the way for her and for her female colleagues, she says, citing the Maya Angelou quote that each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women. “That’s what I’m trying to get at.”

By being “brave enough to have an awkward conversation, you’re normalizing this conversation,” she adds. “You just made it 10 times easier for the woman coming in behind you.”

Untethered by the pandemic, urban workers consider a pastoral life

As the world’s largest experiment in working from home continues, our reporter looks at why some Canadians are considering a more permanent shift from city to country life. Will it last?

David
Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Christine Dimitris moved permanently to Prince Edward County in May amid the pandemic, and has found that she has become a "nature person." Here she's in front of an old barn on her property that she hopes to restore.

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The allure of the city has long been debated. But never has an event touched so many people – essentially the entire world – or untethered so many from workplaces like the 2020 pandemic has.

Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist at the University of Toronto, says the pandemic has given way to a recalibration of values around home life. “People all over the world are asking these questions: Where do I live? Do I move to the country? Do I buy a single-family home? Do I get a place with a balcony?”

Treat Hull, a real estate broker in Prince Edward County, a pastoral community east of Toronto, says the pandemic has intensified migration; home sales have doubled in July, compared with the same month last year. “For our tiny little community, it’s a tidal wave of interest.”

Many buyers are escaping the city temporarily, he says.

But there are modern forces at play that could lead to more permanent migration patterns, including the largest transfer to remote work in history. “Coronavirus has led to probably the greatest experiment of using technology remotely to facilitate work that we've ever seen,” says Shauna Brail of the University of Toronto.

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4. Untethered by the pandemic, urban workers consider a pastoral life

Now that Christine Dimitris has moved from Toronto to Prince Edward County, an island on the northern shore of Lake Ontario known as “the County,” she heads to fresh produce stands when she needs groceries, not cramped supermarkets.

When she needs fresh air, instead of contemplating the risks of entering an elevator, she walks to her screened-in back porch, which looks out onto an acre of land.

“It’s depressing in Toronto, to be honest with you, especially in an apartment. It’s confining with the COVID,” she says. “There’s something about getting up in the morning and just hearing the birds or seeing an opossum going by.”

She says she wasn’t “a nature person” before the pandemic, but since the move in May her priorities have shifted. And she is not alone.

The allure of the city has long been debated, beginning centuries ago with plague outbreaks, through the invention of the car, the internet and the first notions of remote work, and 9/11. But never has an event touched so many people – essentially the entire world – or untethered so many from workplaces like the 2020 pandemic has.

“A tidal wave of interest”

Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist at the University of Toronto, says he sees no evidence of an urban exodus. But he says the pandemic has given way to a massive unmooring for those who can now work from home, and a recalibration of values around home life.

“I’ve never heard so many people asking, should they move? Where should they move? People all over the world are asking these questions: Where do I live? Do I move to the country? Do I buy a single-family home? Do I get a place with a balcony?” he says. “People are really thinking about how they want to live.”

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Patrons order gourmet sausages from the Old Salt Cocktails food truck at lunch to eat at picnic tables set against the background of vineyards and roaming chickens.

Dr. Florida says downtown cores of high-rise offices and generic suburbs outside cities could suffer. Pastoral settings, particularly those like Prince Edward County with proximity to urban centers, he says, will do “wonderfully well.”

Dotted with farms and vineyards, the County and its rural chic vibe has for years been attracting urbanites who have come for more space, a more leisurely pace, and cheaper housing. But the pandemic has intensified migration, says Treat Hull, a real estate broker with Treat Hull and Associates. He says home sales have doubled in July, compared with the same month last year. “I think I can only call it an explosion,” he says. “From our standpoint, for our tiny little community, it’s a tidal wave of interest.”

Many buyers are escaping the city temporarily, he says. And that’s a reflex that dates back centuries. Euan Roger, principal records specialist at The National Archives in the United Kingdom, has written about social distancing measures during 16th-century plague outbreaks. He points to a letter from 1532 to Thomas Cromwell in their State Papers collection that noted: “I have not seen London so destitute of people as it was when I came there.”

But there are modern forces at play that could lead to more permanent migration patterns, including the largest transfer to remote work in history. E-commerce company Shopify was the first major Canadian company to announce it was moving to a work-at-home model, consolidating the trend and freeing employees to live essentially anywhere.

“Coronavirus has led to probably the greatest experiment of using technology remotely to facilitate work that we’ve ever seen,” says Shauna Brail, an associate professor at the Institute for Management and Innovation at the University of Toronto.

Will it last?

Steve Ferguson, the mayor of Prince Edward County, says the island will be the beneficiary of this, given its proximity to Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. He personally knows two friends from Toronto relocating here this fall. Having moved himself 30 years ago, his mantra is that “everyone is welcome,” he says, then adds, “but please respect the reasons that brought you here.”

Tensions have grown, particularly as tourism swelled this summer. Beaches were so overcrowded that the provincial park sometimes closed down by midmorning. More important for locals, housing prices have increased too: on average by about 15% per year over the past five years, says Mr. Hull. This year they are up 25% from last.

David Banks, founder of Old Salt Cocktails, a food truck, moved to Prince Edward County from Toronto in 2016 to set up his business. It has boomed as he’s set up in the back field of a winery, where lunchtime patrons munch on gourmet sausage creations as chickens roam. But as he’s watched a steady stream of city dwellers follow his earlier path, he wonders about the nature of the place, and worries about his employees, most of whom can’t afford the housing costs.

Yet Dr. Brail says what appears to be a permanent values shift might prove an illusion. “You might get to have your coffee by the lake every morning. But do you have access to … the same kinds of other specialized services that you might appreciate or the cultural amenities?” she says. “And I am not convinced that all of the companies, especially the tech companies that have indicated they’re going to go digital by default, are going to remain in that mode when this is over.”

“There’s going to be a huge pull back to the city,” she predicts.

Ms. Dimitris, a retired teacher, doesn’t expect to be drawn back – except to visit her children and parents. She worried initially about turning her get-away cottage into a permanent home. “Initially I thought, ‘I can’t live out here. Like, what am I going to do here?’” But even as winter nears, she has embraced a new lifestyle – it has a name over social media, #cottagecore – that feels slower and kinder. “It’s really just a mind-shift for me just to move over here.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, we have removed our paywall for all pandemic-related stories.

Picture of comfort: Gardening in times of crisis (animation)

Her grandmother’s garden got her through World War II. As the world faces another crisis, our contributor is turning to her own blooms for solace and hope. We think you’ll appreciate this soulful, engaging video tribute. 

For Perdita Buchan, the days of World War II in Britain were not bleak, but filled with joyful color. She spent her youth exploring her grandmother’s flourishing garden, a haven from the war.

She had come home with her mother to her grandmother’s house while her father flew airplanes in the Royal Air Force. Her grandmother was a civil air raid warden – but also the keeper of a beautiful garden that fascinated the young Perdita. 

While enemy planes stalked the skies above Britain, she found solace digging among the puschkinia and gladiolus flowers, and delight in making her grandmother laugh under the rose pergola.

Today, Ms. Buchan tends to the buds and blooms in her own garden, which again is bringing her consolation through a different crisis – a pandemic. The garden, and the memory of her grandmother, are a balm in troubling times. 

Using mixed media animation by artist Jules Struck, Ms. Buchan’s Home Forum essay “Two Gardens, Two Crises” describes in her own words the comfort of a garden.

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Why some world alliances endure

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On Tuesday, 193 nations convened virtually at the United Nations with a special note: the celebration of the U.N.’s founding 75 years ago. This broad community of countries has shown that alliances for humanity’s good can work against bullying nations. The anniversary arrives just as the world again sees two new partnerships that have formed to fend off today’s bullies.

On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed an accord to normalize relations with Israel in large part to counter Iran’s aggression. And in October, a group consisting of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan will meet to discuss China’s aggression against its neighbors. In both cases, these regional fronts have made sure to emphasize what they stand for, not only what they stand against.

The global institutions set up by the U.S. and others after World War II have lasted because they were anchored in universal ideals. When the U.N. has faltered against aggression, other alliances of nations – such as NATO – have been needed to ensure peace based on a shared commitment to values. The 75th anniversary is as good a time as any to recall what works for humanity’s good.

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Why some world alliances endure

On Tuesday, 193 nations convened virtually at the United Nations with a special note: the celebration of the U.N.’s founding 75 years ago. This broad community of countries – along with the values embedded in its 1945 charter – has “enabled us to avoid the scourge of a Third World War,” noted its secretary-general, António Guterres. In other words, alliances for humanity’s good such as the U.N. can work against bullying nations.

The 75th anniversary arrives just as the world again sees two new partnerships that have formed around shared values to fend off today’s bullies. On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed an accord to normalize relations with Israel in large part to counter Iran’s aggression in the Middle East. And in October, a group called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“the Quad”) – consisting of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan – will meet to discuss China’s military aggression against its neighbors, from the Himalayas to small islands off the Philippines.

In both cases, these regional fronts have made sure to emphasize what they stand for, not only what they stand against. The opening of ties between Israel and the two Gulf Arab states is a “step on the road to genuine and lasting peace, security, and prosperity across the region,” said Bahrain’s foreign minister. The Quad members say they are maintaining the liberal rules-based international order, which China keeps challenging by military means.

If the U.N. has taught the world anything, it is that values-based partnerships are more enduring, unlike those based solely on national interests or a balance of power. In their work to counter China’s aggression, for example, the U.S. and Southeast Asian nations have insisted that Beijing follow international law rather than take islands by force. And the Quad nations are meeting to affirm a “free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific Region based on shared values and principles and respect for international law,” states India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

The global institutions set up by the U.S. and others after World War II have lasted because they were anchored in universal ideals. When the U.N. has faltered against aggression, other alliances of nations – such as NATO – have been needed to ensure peace based on a shared commitment to values. The 75th anniversary is as good a time as any to recall what works for humanity’s good.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Thought sanitizer

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Thought matters, and God’s limitless love is powerful enough to cleanse us of anger, resentment, fear – and even injury.

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1. Thought sanitizer

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There are lots of hand sanitizing stations around these days – little pump bottles or self-serve dispensers of cleansing goop. As I was rubbing a hearty portion on my hands the other day, the insight came, “Wait a minute. Maybe along with applying hand sanitizer, I should be applying ‘thought sanitizer’!”

By that I mean that I have found that cultivating harmful, negative thoughts has a detrimental effect in one’s experience. And that cleaning them up makes a big difference! Of course, it’s common sense to wash our hands, and we should do that, but it’s also important to recognize that decontaminating thought is essential to health and well-being. What we think is manifested outwardly in our experience. For example, if you were to hear some bad news, you might get a sinking sensation in the pit of your stomach, whereas if someone told you something funny, you couldn’t help but smile.

One mindset that needs to be purified, both individually and in society as a whole, is hostile attitudes toward others. Hostility has many forms, and sometimes seems to slink almost unnoticed into our experience.

But there is an antidote: Love. And not just human love, but the divine Love that is God. This infinite Love is a potent “disinfectant.” And Love is reflected in all God’s children. This spiritual reality empowers us to keep our consciousness increasingly free from negative-attitude pollutants, such as hostility.

Now, we are not just talking about positive thinking here. We are talking about recognizing God, who is all good, as the source and substance of all legitimate thoughts and feelings. I have found that the more willing I am to yield to Love, the more naturally I express kindness, tolerance, patience, and open-mindedness toward others, and the less inclined I am to hostility, resentment, fear, or annoyance.

And the better I feel physically, as well. When I feel a deep, divine peace and harmony, everything in my life goes better, including my health. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, describes health as “the absolute consciousness of harmony and of nothing else” (“Rudimental Divine Science,” p. 11).

Entertaining thoughts of peace, harmony, and love for our fellow man and woman is not a chore – it’s natural for us as God’s loved children. Expressing God’s love is our normal state of being.

One time I was feeling discomfort in part of my body. I thought an adjustment to my routine activities would help, but it didn’t. Then I also realized that I had been feeling a bit annoyed with someone recently.

I prayed to see that person in their true light as the child of God, and therefore capable of expressing all the attributes of God, divine Love, such as thoughtfulness, unselfishness, and humility. Then I followed up with a prayer to see myself, too, as the child of God. God knows us not as irritating or irritated mortals, but as the pure ideas of divine Love. That’s what we truly are.

These prayers, this yielding to Love’s message of God’s care and ever-presence, brought me mental uplift, joy, and freedom from the annoyance I’d been feeling. Soon my body felt better, too, and it has stayed that way.

Such prayerful decontamination of thought is not always quick and easy. It can take persistence in holding to the spiritual fact that God, Love, is supreme. But as we come to genuinely acknowledge this spiritual reality, we experience a mental shift that also brings physical change. Each of us can try to better sanitize our thoughts. Thought is where it all begins – and ends! As Christ Jesus said, “Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matthew 23:26).

Viewfinder

Making room for the new

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Ahead of the Jewish New Year, workers clean out notes left by worshippers in the cracks between the stones of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem Sept. 16, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about how actors are finding new performance outlets after Broadway shut down.

If you’re looking for more news, here’s a window on some of the faster-moving headline news that we’re following. 

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