Again, another surreal day in Atlanta. Midtown and Peachtree Center near empty at rush hour. It is the end of day one of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom’s “stay in place” edict as citizens are now required to stay in, coming out for only for essential activities i.e. seeing your doctor, heading to the grocery store, buying provisions from a hardware store, etc.
A municipal corporation has to justify its right to assess property and sales taxes by not only making its jurisdiction an attractive one for commerce and trade, but by creating an environment that protects the physical safety of its citizens. Mayor Lance Bottoms was not ready to wait on Governor Brian Kemp to make up his mind about a state-wide shut down, preferring to go ahead and let Atlanta residents know that her administration was ready to take care of residents within her physical jurisdiction even if it meant pushing social distancing to the extreme.
Pushing social distancing to the extreme in this case means a further separation between the “do” labor versus the “thought” labor who are responsible for feeding capital with the knowledge and information necessary for increasing returns on said capital. As recent as last week, “thought” labor could engage with “do” labor where a computer programmer making $50 per hour could still engage the cashier at the corner deli who made $10 per hour. That tangential relationship, no matter how brief, represented some exchange between two worlds that take for granted how much they need each other.
A virus and a broadband connection may be busting up that tangential relationship forever.
My spidey-sense, after receiving these optical signals about where the market and society is going during this pandemic, called on me to help Jeff Bezos add to his fortune by signing up for Amazon Prime. I am adjusting to staying at home and having to struggle with a tech support that is no longer just a short walk to the next hall. It is not helping that we have rainy, overcast weather here in Atlanta compounding the feeling that I am working during a never ending weekend due to how slow it is on the street. Depending on the mood of the clerk or waitress I lucked up on, that tangential brief relationship could have gone to making my day a brighter one.
I believe that Atlanta and other major cities are becoming the ground zero for a future where people will only be found outside jogging either by themselves or with a partner, and ordering food and groceries via broadband, delivered first by a human, then later by driver-less car or drone. The once a week Uber Eats delivery may become a daily ritual with a greatly reduced tangential relationship with the “do” laborer attached.
Atlanta’s investors should be paying more attention to how the future of social distancing will impact the use of city infrastructure. If we are spending less time driving on the streets or strolling along the Beltline or through the parks, how long will it take the taxpayer to figure out that she shouldn’t have to pay for this infrastructure?
And while I did see a bunch of people taking their morning stroll along the Beltline, I suspect that was more out of boredom than an attempt to pursue consistent use of the infrastructure. I could be wrong, especially if more Atlantans find being restricted to home bringing them one step closer to catatonic.
While Atlanta continues to react to social changes brought about by America’s response to a virus, the city should be proactive about what the combination of technology and social distancing will do to Atlanta’s economic and financial structure ten years from now.