Master’s Project Abstracts: COVID-19 Case Studies

The research conducted by the Department of City and Regional Planning reflects the planning challenges of the moment, and this relevance is no better represented than through the graduated class of 2021’s Master’s Projects focused on COVID-19. Below are abstracts and corresponding links from selected Master’s Projects that span issues of transportation and housing in response to the global pandemic.

For a complete list of DCRP Master’s Projects see here, and for more information on the Master’s Project process, here.

Active Transportation Policy Decisions in Response to COVID-19: Case Studies from Four North America Cities

Emma Stockton

This Master’s Project explores the planning processes, implementation, and public reactions to new active transportation infrastructure built in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in four North American cities (Washington, DC, Chapel Hill, NC, Oakland, CA, Halifax, Nova Scotia). The implementation of active transportation infrastructure moved abnormally quickly to respond to an increased demand for walking and biking in local areas due to COVID-19 lockdowns, restriction of travel and closure of many businesses. Interviews were conducted with transportation planners working for each of the four cities to gain insight into each city’s experience, lessons learned, and predictions for the future of active transportation infrastructure. The case studies particularly focus on two topics: the community engagement process with residents while physical distancing measures were in place, as well as equity considerations and perceptions of new active transportation programs. It is crucial to understand how these decisions were made as well as the implications of these decisions to guide future active transportation planning, implementation, and evaluation.

Housing Policy for Eviction Prevention during COVID-19

Lauren Turner

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased housing instability and put millions of renters at risk of displacement since stay-at-home orders began in the US in March 2020. Federal, state, and local actors rushed to expand and adapt existing housing policies, and create new ones, to prevent the additional public health disaster of millions of Americans being evicted. This paper examines two housing policy measures – eviction moratoria and emergency rental assistance (ERA) – taken to prevent evictions during COVID-19, exploring these policies at the federal, state, and local level. The paper uses the state of North Carolina, specifically Orange County, as a case study, examining Orange County’s Emergency Housing Assistance (EHA) fund. Finally, this paper examines how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses of US affordable housing policy, and explores potential policy proposals for the future of housing in the US.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Telework Attitudes and Behaviors?

Christian Snelgrove

Any change is difficult, but massive disruptions such as COVID-19 often make people see their daily habits in a new light. Transportation systems and habits have been acutely affected by the pandemic, and one significant way this disruption has manifested is in a large shift from traditional commuting to telework. The question is how long these changes will last, if at all. Using a cross-sectional attitudinal survey, my paper examines how COVID-19 has affected telework attitudes and behaviors. I asked respondents to report their pre-COVID-19 and current telework attitudes and behavior, as well as different socioeconomic and attitudinal indicators to further stratify the data. My data indicate a sizeable shift in workers’ desired commuting behavior. My respondents largely had positive experiences with telework, resulting in them wanting to telework most of the time moving forward. Commute-mode preferences shifted as well, with many respondents who previously preferred to drive alone now wishing to primarily telework. These results suggest a significant change in commuting attitudes that should be harnessed. Many employers have made large investments in telework technology and training due to the pandemic. This serves as an opportunity to offer workers more choice, creating a working environment better attuned to their needs.

Lane Reallocations during COVID: A Comparison of Interventions and Decision-Making Process

Joshua Mayo

This paper aims to look at the political factors around lane reallocations on commercial and mixed-use streets in the United States during the COVID pandemic. Using multiple case studies, this project will examine the political factors around the decision-making process, implementation, and discussions about the future of these interventions. Case study analysis will be conducted by examining the messaging in public meetings and associated materials, and supplemented by the author’s experience as staff at one of the case studies. This paper is targeted at people interested in the impacts of the COVID pandemic on support for active travel, and aims to set up future research on how these interventions fare after the pandemic.

Post-Pandemic Utilization of Office to Residential Adaptive Reuse Strategies in Cities

Shane Sweeney

American cities are facing an epidemic. Affordable housing is nearly impossible to find in desirable cities. This shortage has cost-burdened almost half of American families who spend 30% or more of their gross income on housing. The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated previously grim outlooks for the office market. Cities nationwide are experiencing historic highs in office vacancy rates and catastrophic deficits in net absorption. Adaptive reuse is an innovative, sustainable, and viable solution to this two-pronged problem. It is the process of taking an older or underutilized structure and repurposing that structure for a new or different use. In this present situation, city officials have the ability to work with owners of underutilized office buildings to assist in repurposing these structures into residential units through a number of tools such as tax credits, grants, expedited permitting, trusts, affordable housing incentives, and much more. Adaptive reuse is a multi-dimensional solution to an emerging problem which encapsulates the real-estate market, city dynamics, zoning, housing stock and prices, homelessness, and long-term sustainability of cities. This paper serves as a guide to planners, students, and citizens to elaborately define the problems at hand, explore a successful case study, provide a repeatable and thorough analysis, present feasible tools and policies to enact change, and discuss the challenges of doing so. With this research, planners in large urban areas can assess the need and usefulness of adaptive reuse to help curb the constantly changing problems cities face and the effects of COVID-19 in their communities.

By James Hamilton

Featured image courtesy of Carolina Angles