Before I forget, I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologize to every couple and individual on TV’s “House Hunters” that I openly mocked for “needing” a designated home office space “just in case” they had to work from home. I was wrong, and you were right.
We Memphians are all spending a lot more time at home these days. Across the city people are working, sheltering, healing, learning, and feeling stressed and scared at home. It is both a uniting and terrifying experience, because for every person who will able to ride out the pandemic with a moderate level of comfort, there are several people who were thrown into crisis mode and are struggling to find a path forward.
For the past few weeks, myself and everyone else who works in Housing in Memphis have been frantically working to reschedule events, keep existing projects moving forward, anticipate and respond to community needs, and keep track of any resources available to help those that we know will be in need. There are several unknowns in how this pandemic will affect all of us but I believe it will strongly impact how we engage with not just our own individual spaces, but also with our neighbors as a community.
As stated previously I thought the desire for a home office was silly if you didn’t already work at home. I think the desire for flex space will not be limited to just home offices. As we are all limited to our homes for the foreseeable future, I believe we will start looking for homes that give us a little extra breathing room whether that’s a home office, designated playroom, pantry, or other storage space. Having to combine functions of spaces or limiting the number of walls on the main floors of homes may seem like unattractive options now that we have lived through the collective reality of trying to maintain focus on a Zoom call while children ask to ride bicycles, pets climb onto laptops and into mischief, and another adult participates in another Zoom call.
Arguably one of the more beautiful things to come out of this pandemic is the increased use of not just porches but a return to porch culture. It seems as though every porch in the city is in use these days as people enjoy some fresh air, while maintaining a healthy 6 feet of separation from other households. And not just using their porches but talking to neighbors on their porches and bringing porch culture back to life. With everyone home and activating the lesser used parts of their space, more of us are using our porch swings and sidewalk chalk in a ritual I think should be continued after we return to our normal schedule.
This pandemic has highlighted the ways in which we are and are not connected as communities. Yes, there has been a beautiful resurgence of porch culture in Memphis but there have also been communities feeling the concentrated effects of what they don’t have. Whether a grocery store, transit options, pharmacy, infrastructure to support internet usage, or even sidewalks, the dearth of resources and connectivity to resources has been exacerbated as we are all required to stay home and public transit options have been reduced in the interest of public health. To be clear, there were neighborhoods lacking these necessary services before the pandemic, but the current situation has made the existing problem worse. Food, transit and infrastructure deserts in Memphis need to be resolved, otherwise we are sentencing parts of the city to be worse hit by every crisis that will affect the city.
Our relationships with our homes will be just one part of the way this pandemic will impact all of our lives. But one thing we should all remember about this time is what it taught us about how vitally important healthy and comfortable housing is and how much we can take it for granted. So when we are all back to our normal routines; going into the office, taking children to school, or taking a walk through the mall out of boredom, let’s not forget to speak up and advocate for better transit options for those that need them, grocery stores for neighborhoods without access to healthy food options, and porch swings for all.
Imani Jasper is the Program Manager for Neighborhood Preservation, Inc.