I took a photo yesterday that explains the year. It’s about adaptation, and, ultimately, survival. It also addresses another dilemma: depending on the context of a place, or my mindset at different times, I find it hard to have confidence in what I see. I need the back story, which starts with a tale of two retail chains on the High Street of an English town.

As an essential service (health and nutrition), Holland & Barrett has remained open in one form or another through various phases of lockdown. In the distance, looking up Newbury’s Northbrook Street, the Cote Brasserie sign shines on, despite a pending move of Berkshire County to England’s Tier 3. By Saturday, it will be a restaurant with takeout only, like November, or last June.

Meanwhile, to the right, a masked woman moves forward, her confident stride the stuff of newspaper articles about how to get by in these trying times. Some months ago, masks were not always part of the toolkit.

Most who read this far will see my intended messages about the roles of ambiguity and perseverance. Just like Holland & Barrett’s Newbury store, we have encountered both in adjusting to adversity. As the sign proudly proclaims the store has changed with these times, and so have we.

We Are Still Not Open

The back story continues in another urban place. Across the road from home, I took another photo last week. The local pub is closed for the foreseeable future. For pubs that do not serve substantial meals, there is a different context, a different mindset, and a different vision.

I’m not sure that religious doctrines apply to pandemics—that if we do the right thing, obey the rules, follow the teachings, that we will be saved. One of the classic and time-honored types of perseverance—that of the Saints—seems very much lacking.

The rules keep changing, masks now, pubs then. Science, politics, ignorance, or all three simultaneously. Hence, in these times of pre-vaccination, we must make personal determinations. Stay safe, but not saved.

Crank up iTunes. For those people and businesses who have survived COVID-19, Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” applies. In another context, so does Francis Scott Key’s “our flag was still there.”

Speaking for the lucky ones, most of us are still open. Open for business, hope, trepidation, frustration, and whatever comes next.


For more on the context of urban places (pandemic or otherwise), check out my pending book, Sustaining a City’s Culture and Character: Principles and Best Practices, available for preorder directly from Rowman & Littlefield, Amazon, AmazonUK, and other online and legacy booksellers around the world.

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