As the year 2020 rolled in, it seemed like the beginning of yet another decade. As someone working with quantitative data, the end of a decade is an exciting period as it allows to put into perspective how the past 10-year period looked like – on a host of important economic and demographic variables. However, 3 months into the new year, everything seemed to change overnight. What started out as a period of uncertainty about the new virus soon became a hard reality for everyone across the globe. Every community, in every nation across the globe was hit hard. The nation shut down, everything, offices, schools, stores, gyms, parks, even hospitals were suddenly closed and most people were locked inside their homes. The world had not witnessed a crisis like this in a very long time. Then, slowly, everything began to change, again. Just like the pandemic, no one had experienced the new way of working, living, studying, interacting, either. Work from home started slow but within a few months it almost seemed to find a great pace and for most folks, this worked out great. Everyone slowly learnt to becoming productive, sometimes even more than they previously were. Kids adapted to the computer screen quickly and soon their bedrooms and living rooms became their new classrooms. Stores quickly figured our innovative ways of serving their customers, many of whom did not even want to step out of their vehicles. Some economic sectors adapted better than others, primarily due to the nature of the activity, i.e. production versus services. Local governments – city, county, school districts adapted quickly too, to go about their work in the new environment. All of these were ‘new beginnings.’
The new beginning was about the transformation that changed the way we work and live. With almost 17 months since the start of this major shift, there were periods of optimism and despair. As the virus ravaged communities, this was followed by slowdown in the spread of the virus, and new hope. This was again followed by another round of spread. Vaccinations offered a ray of hope and the initial months of 2021 was a rush for finding a place to get the vaccine. While many were enthused to be vaccinated, in equal numbers, folks were skeptical. It boiled down to personal choice about how one understood the virus, the efficacy of the vaccine, and interestingly enough, whether or not this was government overstepping its responsibility to society. And the debate continues as we all work toward the future which will be for a lot of us, different. If medical experts are to be believed, the virus will linger on into the future. We will need to live with and around it.
As a scholar an practitioner, the past 18 months have been revealing at some many levels. First, it is a glimpse into how the future might look like. As technological progress grows at higher rate, the ability to change becomes faster. This might just be the time that tips our nation and communities to think about the future differently. Think about how we continue to be productive and responsive to big changes. For local governments, especially in Iowa, the next decade will be different, in so many different ways. The latest data from the U.S. Census highlights the demographic changes in Iowa during 2010-20. Overall, Iowa grew at 4.7 %, almost 3 points below the national growth rate. The population growth was primarily concentrated in the urban pockets around the state. Interestingly however, the percentage of non-white population in Iowa grew faster than the white population during the past decade, highlighting the inevitability, which is not just a state, but national trend across the U.S. This has significant implications for communities that are not just growing, but also declining or holding steady. Especially, the financial repercussions are being felt in significant ways. Local governments are having to share greater burden to generate revenues/resources to continue their services, at the city and county level.
Overall, there is a reset happening in several levels within cities and counties that could have a profound impact on how we all live and work. Perhaps a new beginning?