The pandemic and advances in communications have accelerated change at an unexpected rate and on an unprecedented scale. They have combined to hint at the shape of tomorrow when home working and maybe some home study will be everyday.
Those forces have reshaped face-to-face retailing and in turn, challenge urban viability and vibrancy.
One set of figures underlines that tremendous shift: Amazon’s revenue was up 38% to a record $386bn (€327bn) last year, a year-on-year rise of over $100bn (€85bn). Net profit rose by 84%.
These figures do not represent new business but diverted revenues, as many local retailers will confirm, as does creeping dereliction in city centres.
The growth of online retail may slow post-pandemic but the graph will climb, challenging traditional retailing and the settings that host those businesses. Those changes may not remake our world as dramatically as the need to, finally, get serious about trying to avert climate catastrophe, but they do represent huge social change.
The prospect of huge political change runs parallel and seems inevitable if our ongoing scandal — the housing crisis — is not resolved in the immediate future.
All of these issues, and many more, come together in the very ambitious plans for Cork City and its hinterlands announced this week.
The scale and ambition are as impressive as they are timely as the pandemic has fostered an appetite for rejuvenation.
The objective is to strengthen the city’s economic momentum while offering an alternative to Dublin’s relentless suck-up-everything growth.
Not so long ago that idea would have been dismissed as second-city insecurity but the relentless change in how we might live in different, better ways make such ambitions obligatory.
The plan proposes creating some 20,000 homes and 31,000 jobs before 2028. Population growth of 125,000 is anticipated by 2040.
Some €1.8bn has been ringfenced and up to €3.5bn has been earmarked over the next two decades as part of Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy.
Much of this growth will, thankfully, be targeted at brownfield rather than greenfield sites, developments that would exacerbate unsustainable sprawl.
Modernising transport is a central theme and one of the strategies to cut carbon emissions by 51% over a decade. These transport plans will lead to some conflict but are central to creating sustainable, liveable environments.
These achievable ambitions mean we have to review our positions on two staples — water and broadband.
One is collapsing because of under-investment and the other, increasingly the essential conduit of our lives, remains inadequate even in areas that fall under the umbrella of these plans.
It is not an exaggeration to say resolving these issues will define the success or otherwise of this plan.
The announcement of the plan — nearly 1,000 pages — opens an eight-week consultation period. Individuals, organisations and businesses are asked to offer views on proposals that can be seen in full at corkcity.ie
This is a once-in-a-lifetime plan and deserves once-in-a-lifetime consideration, and participation by all whose lives will be shaped by it.