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Coronavirus: have we already missed the opportunity to build a better world?

Many people like to say that the coronavirus is teaching us a lesson, as if the pandemic were a kind of morality play that should lead to a change in our behaviour. It shows us that we can make big shifts quickly if we want to. That we can build back better. That social inequality is starkly revealed at times of crisis. That there is a “magic money tree”. The idea that crisis leads to change was also common during the financial crunch over a decade ago, but that didn’t produce any lasting transformations. So will post-COVID life be any different?

At the start of lockdown, in the middle of the anxiety and confusion, I started to notice that I was enjoying myself. I was cooking and gardening more; the air was cleaner, my city was quieter and I was spending more time with my partner. Lots of people started to write about the idea that there should be #NoGoingBack. It seemed that we had taken a deep collective breath, and then started to think about coronavirus as a stimulus to encourage us to think how we might address other big issues – climateinequalityracism and so on.

Being an academic, I decided to put together a quick and dirty book on what life might look like after the crisis. I persuaded various activists and academics to write short pieces on working at home, money, leadership and lots of other topics. The idea was to show that the world could change if we wanted it to. The book is out now, but it already feels, only four months after I imagined it, like the document of a lost time. The city noises are back, and jet trails are beginning to scar the sky. Has the moment been lost?

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