On September 29, the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, part of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, convened a full-day virtual symposium to share information and gather input from sector leaders regarding COVID-19 responses and thoughts on what to expect from the post pandemic world. The future of work, housing, commercial real estate, tourism, hospitality, retail and entertainment in the New Jersey and New York metropolitan region were the key subjects of discussion.
The event, which was planned in close consultation with NJ TRANSIT, brought together 25 local, national and international experts who presented and participated in facilitated on-line conversations about the ongoing pandemic, economic recovery and the future of transportation and mobility in the region. More than 200 transportation professionals, city planners, economists, development officials, and other decision-makers from government and transit agencies from Philadelphia to New Haven attended the virtual symposium.
“Transportation and mobility are critical to the region’s economy and the well-being of every resident,” said Piyushimita (Vonu) Thakuriah, distinguished professor and dean of the Bloustein School in her welcoming remarks. “While the pandemic is global, its effects are local. We are pleased to partner with NJ TRANSIT to explore the effects of the pandemic on people and businesses and to work with them to find ways to bolster the region’s recovery while ensuring public transportation services meet the changing needs of transit customers.”
NJ TRANSIT President and CEO Kevin Corbett noted the symposium discussions will be used to inform the agency’s plans for the future. “The information we gather here today will serve as a critical component in our ongoing planning and forecasting efforts. The input we receive from industry leaders will be used to define a series of future scenarios. These scenarios will allow us to model and test how future economic and mobility conditions may impact public transportation needs and services throughout our service area.”
In the opening keynote, Richard Florida, Ph.D., university professor at University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, distinguished fellow at NYU and FIU, and co-founder and senior editor, The Atlantic’s CityLab, said that, “history and past crises demonstrate that the pandemic will not be the death of cities.” He suggested however that “cities, public agencies and their leaders cannot return to business as usual. They must be intentional and look for ways to build back better.” This might include reinventing commercial centers, reimagining public space, diversifying economies, exploring new governance models, and increasing focus on equity to ensure economic recovery efforts are fair and inclusive.
The four roundtable discussions covered a range of topics. The public health panel discussed how a future COVID-19 vaccine and on-going public health precautions may shape economic recovery efforts and what it will take to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of work, social activities and travel. The mobility and public transit panel discussed what public transport agencies around the world are doing to ensure public safety and bring customers back to transit. The future of real estate panel explored how the pandemic has impacted work, housing and commercial real estate and discussed whether the changes we are seeing are temporary or if a fundamental shift in settlement and work patterns may be underway. Finally, the last panel of experts discussed pandemic impacts on the retail, tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries and what it will take to for these industries to survive and adjust to what is emerging as a “new normal” reality in the region.
Those who were not able to attend the live discussion will be able to view the recorded sessions by visiting https://go.rutgers.edu/vtccov19panel.