The last time my words appeared here, in the April edition, Cincy’s cover touted “6 Great Escapes.” As I write today, our community is struggling to escape the grip of a pandemic that has left thousands without paychecks, others fearful of infection and all of us wondering when we can get back to “normal.”

Without any apparent COVID cure, or a broadly available preventative vaccine, the timing of that escape and our return to normal remains uncertain. Paraphrasing former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, there are “known unknowns” and also “unknown unknowns.” We have plenty of both:

Schools

About 90% of families rely on public schools to educate their kids. Most working parents rely on schools to care for their children during the day when they head to work. But plans for opening schools safely, and keeping them open through a potential second wave of infections, are deeply uncertain. When Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Laura Mitchell publicly speculated about limiting students’ school week to 1-3 days to allow for distancing, parents howled. Balancing parental expectations with the need to keep students and staff healthy, while absorbing big state funding cuts, will be a huge challenge for local school leaders.

Sports and Other Public Events


Reds and Bengals fans were unusually optimistic about the 2020 season. Meanwhile, new outdoor concert venues are sprouting on both sides of the Ohio River, Music Hall only recently reopened after its renovation and FC Cincinnati’s new stadium rises in the West End. Now guidelines about social distancing have the Reds, Bengals and FC Cincinnati talking about how and when they can play again, possibly in front of empty stands. When large gatherings are allowed, how many of us will buy sports, concert or theater tickets? Can arts and culture venues survive until we come back?

Working

Stay at home orders created a new social divide: Those with essential jobs—medical and grocery store workers, delivery drivers, police and fire—were expected to keep slogging to work and assume the risk of infection. Non-essential restaurant and retail workers were laid off, accounting for those mindboggling unemployment numbers. Others—lawyers, college professors, journalists, accountants, office workers and teachers—could work from home. Many bosses have learned that some of us are expendable, and that their expensive office space could be a huge waste of money. That portends big changes for working life, as some employers tell more of us to just keep working from home. That’s not good news for office building landlords.

Cincinnati’s Urban Renaissance

The last decade has seen a surge of development in Cincinnati’s central business district (CBD) and Over-the-Rhine. New hotels, restaurants, retail and apartment units have opened or are under construction, fueled by generous tax abatements. Young professionals and older empty nesters moved closer to the river into apartments and condos. Business and leisure travelers have filled new hotel rooms and restaurants. The streetcar connected it all. But a pandemic can quickly change your perspective on where to live or travel. Will proximity to hip bars and restaurants be as appealing in the age of social distancing? Will anyone want to board airplanes to come to The Queen City any time soon? Will some of us look for more wide-open spaces if all you need is reliable Wi-Fi to earn a living? The civil unrest and vandalism of late May, following the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, will make any CBD rebound that much harder.

One thing I can predict: when all these unknowns become known, hopefully by 2022, the new normal for Cincinnati will not be the normal we remember before COVID-19.

Good luck to us all in getting there safely.