Global Fix

How Can Portland—And the US—Adapt to Our New Pandemic Planet?

From rent freezes to hazard pay, here are a few ideas from around the world worth considering.

By Julia Silverman August 1, 2020 Published in the August 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, bright spots have emerged around the globe, with creative solutions and offbeat suggestions to adapt to our new, contagion-conscious world.

Worldwide, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been—how can we say this tactfully?—mixed. Dependent upon capricious leadership, snaggled by the marketplace, overrun with speculation born of uncertainty.... And yet, even amid all this, bright spots have emerged around the globe, with creative solutions and offbeat suggestions to adapt to our new, contagion-conscious world. Here are some ideas ready for the co-opting.


Government officials here moved swiftly to put a social safety net under its citizens, including a moratorium on rent hikes and evictions that’s set to last through September, at least.

Could It Happen Here? Oregon prohibited evictions for the duration, but never OK’ed a rent freeze, given objections from landlords. “A rent freeze is definitely needed in Oregon,” says Lauren Everett with PDX Tenants United. “There is no reason we know of why the governor cannot implement a rent freeze by executive order, but thus far there has not been any movement.”


Faced with the possibility that COVID-19 patients would overwhelm the available number of hospital beds, entrepreneurs came up with a super-Canuck-ish plan: to convert temporarily shuttered municipal ice rinks into health care stations if hospitals ran out of space.

Could It Happen Here?
Owners at the Sherwood Ice Arena say no one has reached out to them with any such proposition. But landmarks like the Oregon Convention Center have been repurposed for shelter beds, so it’s not totally beyond the pale.


From the people who brought you hygge and Hans Christian Andersen comes the brilliant idea to turn empty tourist attractions, from amusement park Tivoli Gardens to the Copenhagen Zoo, into temporary discovery zones for preschoolers and kindergartners.

Could It Happen Here? Oaks Amusement Park communications director Emily MacKay calls Tivoli “an extraordinary park” uniquely positioned to double as a school setting. If Oaks Park can’t reopen for midway fun this year, “we will look at ways of temporarily reimagining ourselves into something that works within the parameters of the time,” MacKay says.


Dozens of cities around the world (including Portland) have added new bicycle lanes as people try to avoid public transportation and seek out safely distant ways to exercise. Only in the Eternal City, though, can people get reimbursed up to a cool $540 for the purchase of a bicycle, a nod to Rome’s hope never to return to a traffic-choked centro.

Could It Happen Here? Survey says highly unlikely, particularly given the city’s $75 million budget shortfall. In fact, Oregon tacks on an excise tax of $15 to every new bike sale over $200, thanks to a 2017 law.


Leaders have authorized a one-off hazard pay bonus for essential medical workers of 200,000 yen (about $1,900).

Could It Happen Here? Individual hospitals, grocery stores, and delivery firms have offered hazard pay in Oregon, but there’s been no statewide effort. It’s a nice thought, says Kevin Mealy with the Oregon Nurses Association, but his group
is more focused on lobbying for systemic change, like job protections, child care support, and paid leave. “A hero bonus,” he says, “is no substitute for basic safety measures.”


This remote, rugged country is only two hours via plane from Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated, and yet the country has had zero deaths and zero local transmissions. Officials accomplished it with a swift containment strategy, starting in January.

Could It Happen Here? Too late. But another wave of coronavirus is expected in late fall/early winter. Oregon has a chance to follow the Mongolia model with quick action, including early calls on school closures and travel restrictions.

South Africa

Leaders here used the pandemic as a cudgel against smokers, given that COVID-19 is particularly hard on those with lung disease. All cigarette sales in the country have been banned indefinitely.

Could It Happen Here? Look out for your November ballot, which includes a measure referred by the legislature to increase cigarette taxes by $2 a pack and add a tax on e-cigarettes. It’s not a ban, but it is a disincentive. Expect the tobacco lobby to pour in big money to defeat this one.

South Korea

In Seoul, South Korea’s squeaky-clean capital, robots and artificial intelligence are now in charge of the theater-going experience, from taking tickets to directing cinephiles to the restroom and dispensing snacks.

Could It Happen Here? Doesn’t sound like this is a high priority for local theater owners, but they are mulling ways to open their doors, including “contactless devices and services,” says Heyward Stewart of the Academy Theater in Montavilla. 

Filed under
Show Comments