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Reinhard Winiwarter, Publisher ACROSS Magazine. Credit: ACROSS

The shape(s) of things to come /// 5 theses for a new dawn

What we are experiencing these days is unprecedented. Unprecedented in terms of the changes that will come. Unprecedented in regard to the question “how do we go on from here”, and also unprecedented when it comes to the constant as well as instant switches between optimism and sheer pessimism.

Many things have been written about these issues over the last few days. We have yet to see where this journey will take us. However, I tried to summarize what I deduced from these past, very eventful days in 5 theses. The purpose of these 5 theses is to illustrate in which direction things could go, which, in my opinion, will also have massive implications for the future of retail as well as the entire retail real estate and placemaking industry. 

Thesis #1: Political leadership becomes even more important. The importance of key factors in politics has been shifting for roughly 20 years: leadership becomes increasingly important, at the expense of ideological models that move more and more into the background. People now tend to vote for those who can lead them instead of for those who solve their problems. Populists, who have been on the rise over the last years, will now also be measured by their leadership skills–otherwise they will get voted straight out of office. Now more than ever before, political leaders have to communicate plainly, provide safety and, above all, act. 

Thesis #2: A Europe of two speeds emergesThe EU, as a European community, has failed in its endeavors to stem the tide of the corona crisis. It’s not only that 27 member states are hardly able to take joint or at least coordinated measures, it even came to extreme examples of national egoisms like export bans and irrational border closures. Pro-European member states will no longer tolerate that the EU fails to unite its members when it comes to the question of refugees or how to cope with the corona crisis. Two positions will continue to move in opposite directions: one the hand we have unity and integration, and on the other we have borders, isolation, and national solutions. The pressure on clear decisions will increase and become the real test for European leadership. This will ultimately lead to a Europe of two speeds: a progressive group of member states that will lead the way and form the core of the EU. And then there will be second group that only wants to participate in an economic community. 

Thesis #3: Digitalization experiences a massive boostThe technical possibilities for working from home will be implemented predominantly by companies but also by public institutions. Additionally, online retail, e-learning, the digitalization of school and university operations will be expanded substantially. “That doesn’t work” will no longer be viable answer in many areas after the crisis. Internet giants will no longer be able to credibly claim that they do not have any influence on fake news. The renaissance of social cohesion, which manifests itself in joint singing, clapping and playing music during the crisis, will turn into a social countermovement against digitalization, even though it won’t be able to stop it. 

Thesis #4: Safety prevails over freedomFor many years, we have been debating how much safety is needed and how much freedom we are willing to give up for it in return. Refugees and the coronavirus are yet again two issues that tip the scales in this match–towards safety. The mainstream will accept that civil rights will be restricted to ward off threats by viruses or–as right-wing populists like to say–the “migrant invasion”. Border controls, movement tracking in public spaces, data analysis and similar measures could be accepted more easily. This will, at the same time, drive the polarization of society, because a minority that will also become increasingly strong will protest against this development and fight for civil rights. Even though this movement will remain a minority it will at least mitigate certain developments. 

Thesis #5: The interface between politics and business becomes “the place to be”After the political world’s strong interventions into the business domain due to the corona crisis, there will be a realignment between stakeholders. Within a very short period of time, legal frameworks were created that will impact our lives as well as the entrepreneurial scope of companies in the future. Some of these allegedly temporary framework conditions will become permanent fixtures in our rules and laws. Additionally, the orientation toward the common good will become far more important, as individual interests will move even further into the background. Businesses and politics will have to work together during the reconstruction after the times of corona–hand in hand, on equal footing, with mutual respect, and an eye for sustainability. 

All in all, the world after corona will not be entirely different, but the dynamics of some developments will have accelerated dramatically. Those who are not on board or miss a beat will lose out. There will be a future; a wild one with quite a few challenges. It’s time to set sail!