Welcome to the April 2020 Urban Culture Curve—your go-to guide to what’s on its way in, and on its way out, in urban culture.
Yes—it’s near impossible to say precisely where we’ll land in a few months’ time. Flux is our new normal, and resilience and agility are our best armour while the wheel is still in spin. But within the turbulence of COVID-19 is a headwind that’s centred on a deeper sense of social connectivity, accountability and creativity.
We like to think the silver lining is that we’re well on the way into a brave new world. Things will change—we’ll get a new perspective and treasure things like we never have before. We’ll socialise and shop differently. And driving us there this month is community connectivity, innovation and the big burgeoning world of live streaming.
Here’s what’s on the rise, and on the slide in April.
ON THE RISE
While no one will ever forget the coronavirus crisis that has plundered 2020, a few other “c words” have risen to the surface as COVID-19 has spread from coast to coast and city to city—and we feel they deserve a spot in the canon of this surreal slice of human history. For us, it’s both community and connectivity. While we’ve been asked or ordered to stay apart, our connection to the networks around us—neighbours, friends, colleagues, industry, city—has never felt more vital.
On the frontline, the scientific community around the world has banded together to collaborate in ways they literally never have before. On the home front where the hospitality industry has worn the brunt of the blow, the industry is uniting to help each other out, and also those most in need.
In NSW, Queensland and Victoria, an initiative called Meals for Mates is just one of many developed to rally around community. Funded by Pernod Ricard and distributed via Deliveroo credits, $100,000 worth of free meals went to hospitality workers who lost their jobs. Those meals were gifted by venues who were already suffering, like Mary’s, PB’s Bar and Eatery and Vapiano’s. Elsewhere, restaurants like Tequila Mockingbird and Shuk are delivering free meals to people in their neighbourhood who are in need. And throughout neighbourhoods around the world, there are rainbows on pavements and teddy bears in windows, and grocery drop-offs or sweet notes slipped under the front door for elderly neighbours are a part of a new social movement that’s been dubbed "The Kindness Pandemic".
At Urban List, as social distancing has become the world’s new BAU, we decided to switch up the dialogue on distance, rename the health advice “physical distancing”, and to dial up connectivity and community. It’s always been the essence of what we do, connecting our audience to the things they love so they can live their best life, but as internet and social media traffic soar, our mission has never felt so important—and with our social media community growing and engagement stats on the rise (like a 325% increase in comments on Urban List’s combined Instagram accounts, and a 516% increase in our Facebook shares), we know our audience thinks so too.
It’s obvious, sure. But this is a moment in time where we can see so plainly that necessity truly is the mother of invention. And it’s both heartening and exciting to see brands pivot and seize the opportunity in crisis—whether it be directly offering aid, or switching up their business entirely to meet consumers where they’re at.
In Australia, a growing community of distilleries, from pint-sized gin producers to iconic Aussie brands like Bundaberg, are all pitching in to produce hand sanitizer. Cape Byron Distillery sold 4,500 units of 500ml bottles in under an hour. Globally, fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Balenciaga are producing much-needed masks. LVMH is also making masks and medical-grade respirators, and Dyson has also applied its design-thinking to create an entirely new ventilator. There are scores more similar stories—but the central theme seems to be humanity and spirit over sales. Another welcome silver lining amongst the chaos.
The COVID-19 crisis has put a hard stop on experiences outside of people’s homes. With the general government message being to stay inside and self-isolate—the stage has been set for live streaming, real-time virtual gigs and home broadcasts to hit a level of saturation it may have never otherwise reached.
Streaming is by no means new tech, or a new channel to connect individuals—last year live streaming culture was slowly entering the mainstream from the backwaters of gamer culture through Twitch. Under COVID-19, it’s trajectory has skyrocketed. In adhering to government regulations, many, if not most, real-world entertainment experiences have been shuttered off and businesses like museums, zoos, gyms, Pilates studios and theatres have closed; and many gigs and music festivals have either been cancelled or postponed. The overwhelming solution has been to lean into our digital lives. Hey, maybe the gamers were onto something.
According to Google Trends, the search term “zoo live streams” is up by 550% and Urban List’s coverage of live stream events—from Melbourne Zoo’s 24-hour stream and Taronga TV, to Sydney’s first virtual night club and ballet classes streaming from Zoom conference software—garnered over 30,000 UVs within the first two weeks of the COVID-19 shutdown in Australia.
Holed up at home, Netflix can only satisfy our quarantined senses for so long. Escapism is soothing, but connectivity is everything. Live streaming offers us a little window view into the reality we once lived in. It’s not the same as going to a concert, but the collective global FOMO we feel now is transformed into optimism. We’re in this together. We feel entertained and connected.
ON THE SLIDE
This year’s “toilet paper crisis” will probably go down in history as one of the key markers for the kick-off of the coronavirus age—like the launch of Sputnik 1 was for the Cold War, empty toilet paper shelves have rattled the public and toilet paper has become the symbol of the coronavirus crisis.
Dubbed “panic buying” and driven by fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, hoarding toilet paper was deemed “un-Australian” by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and in its wake has generated many memes, puns and internet-worthy eye rolls surfaced under hashtags like #toiletpapercrisis, #toiletpaperapocalypse and #toiletpaperchallenge (clocking up more than 500,000 posts at the time of writing). Though it seems like just a bit of fodder for internet culture, the social phenomena has sparked divisiveness within society—for some it’s a joke, some are just hoarding because everyone else is. Whichever side you picked, both sides have exposed a certain close-mindedness and a closed perspective.
Demonising a lack of perspective isn’t new. During Australia’s devastating bushfires earlier this year, we spoke about “slactivism”—re-posts and “thoughts and prayers”—being slammed while real action affecting change was praised. As COVID-19 has taken hold in the past few weeks, images of Bondi Beach teeming with people actively ignoring social distancing regulations brought about a similar outcry. The message? Navigating this pandemic requires us to be resilient and agile—but it also needs us to find some kind of immunity to hysteria in selflessness and empathy.
As with any major global event, purchasing behaviour is a reflection of fear and uncertainty. For COVID-19, it's also the reflection of social distancing policy. Shopfronts have shut doors the world over and foot traffic has ground to a halt. It's e-commerce's moment to shine: the pandemic has forced the e-commerce industry to evolve quickly and support the demand of online retailers.
With so many of us in forced home quarantine search terms like “Coles home delivery”, “Aldi home delivery” and "home delivery Woolworths” have increased in volume by 200% or more in the last month. The search term “online shopping” has also been on a steady trajectory for the past 90 days, and Urban List’s own online grocery shopping content surpassed 60,000 UVs within two weeks.
But what about non-essentials? Sectors like fashion and luxury are in such a state of flux it makes it tricky to pinpoint the future of shopping in this space right now. Retailers are predicting big-time losses and consumer confidence is wrestling with a turbulent, quick-changing market and a negative news cycle. The joy of emotional purchasing is battling the prospect of unemployment, as well as the more moral question of whether we should be shopping at all.
In the midst of uncertainty, some retail leaders are optimistic about the long-term and view the crisis as an opportunity to reset and modernise. In a survey of 400 fashion executives conducted by Business of Fashion, 66% were confident their companies could rebound. In China, cautious optimism has started to emerge. One thing's for sure—we'll shop more online in the future due to shifts happening now. Amazon is still set for e-commerce domination, and we predict brands that humanise their online customer experience now—through communication, trust and transparency—will ultimately come out stronger on the other side.
Face To Face
As with our shopping behaviours, COVID-19 will likely play a role in altering the way we socialise more permanently. With face-to-face contact largely off the cards for many months to come—technology has stepped in to save us. We're not here to say tech will ever replace human to human contact—there are far too many sci-fi movies that disprove that point. However, in the face of COVID-19—human contact has had to find an alternative.
Silicon Valley conferencing app Zoom has become a household name. Apptopia said Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world on 23 March. It's been used by universities to teach physics, by bachelorettes for parties, by priests for church services and by co-workers for after-work drinks on Fridays. Other apps filling the social void include Houseparty, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Bunch—all of which existed pre-coronavirus but have suddenly found new meaning. Dating in the age of isolation presents its own ocean of challenges. Tinder has opened up its international passport feature so users can make connections the world over.
Whatever the distance, our desire to connect prevails. As for whether we'll use Zoom as feverishly post-corona—only time we'll tell. We do think we'll be nicer humans on the other side—the sort that call our grandparents on the regular, take a chance on chatting to someone we might have otherwise overlooked, book in dinner with friends we used to be too busy for and make an effort to praise our colleagues and our peers for doing something epic.
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Design credit: Kate Mason