Paris: How does a city mourn?

This month's Paris attacks sparked public vigils across the world, like this one in Limassol, Cyprus. Image: AFP/Getty.

The emotional trauma of the 13 November attack in Paris reaches far beyond those whose lives were directly affected. Both those who live near to where the attacks occurred, and those who identify with the victims from further afield, have experienced fear, concern and shock. Now, the people of Paris must come to terms with what they’ve experienced, and find ways to cope with their losses.

But when the emotions of large numbers of people focus on the same events at the same time, we must consider how the citizens of a city – or even an entire nation – share and experience their emotions as a group.

There is a complex interaction between the emotions that people share with others, and how those emotions are represented as collective experiences of “shock” or “mourning”. Yet these descriptions do somehow capture the very real sense that the atmosphere or emotional climate of a place has changed: this is evident in the reduced number of people on the streets, the knee-jerk reactions to non-threatening events, and the absence of laughter in public spaces.

How people feel tends to be reinforced by, and reflected in, what’s going on in their local environment. As a result, norms quickly develop about what is the right thing to do, or the appropriate way to behave.

Coming together

Some worry that communal emotion, especially of high intensity, can trigger mindless “mob” behaviour, such as stampedes or riots. This is not an entirely baseless concern – in the days after the recent terrorist attacks, an ill-timed round of fireworks caused panic at the Place de la Republique. But on the whole, such worries tend to be misguided. While emotions can run high after a terrorist attack, the typical responses are of sorrow and defiance.

In moments of collective sorrow, people often feel the need to demonstrate the depth of their emotions by placing flowers at relevant sites, gathering in public places, staging candle-lit vigils and engaging in group-reinforcing rituals or activities, such as singing the national anthem. The “minute of silence” – typically observed as a way of memorialising death or great suffering – is another example.

Parisians observe a minute of silence in the Place de la Republique after the November attacks. Image: Steve Parsons/PA Wire.

Recent studies show that when citizens of a city engage in these ritualistic events en masse, it creates a sense of togetherness and causes people to identify more closely with others in the group. Research conducted after the 2004 Madrid train bombings found that participating in rituals and demonstrations against war and terrorism which “promote solidarity with positive ideals rather than hatred toward an enemy” fostered a positive emotional climate of hope, solidarity and trust.

It seems that taking part in demonstrations reinforced the belief that the people of Madrid could respond positively and resiliently to collective trauma.

Events in Paris suggest that a similar process is taking place. On the Sunday after the attacks, thousands marched behind a banner which read “Not Afraid”. Many hugged a Muslim man, who stood blindfolded on the streets in an attempt to restore trust. And one remarkable interview featuring a father and son captured how these shared experiences can foster trust and renew hope.

Screen shot from Le Petit Journal’s interview with Angel Le and his six-year-old son, Brandon. Image: Canal+.

In these ways and more, Parisians are demonstrating their commitment to the value of “fraternité” in the face of adversity. That said, collective efforts to mourn can only go so far toward addressing the trauma caused by such attacks.

Coping with trauma

Based on research conducted in the aftermath of 9/11, only a minority of citizens will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and long-term psychological problems as a result of terrorist attacks. But it’s still crucial that individuals are provided with adequate support, to help them cope with distressing events.

Psychosocial support provided by organisations such as the Red Cross and psychological interventions to provide “debriefing” may not necessarily reduce the risk of developing PTSD. Research suggests that it may even impede the natural coping processes.

This is why some argue that support efforts should draw on the existing “social capital” within communities affected by such overwhelming and distressing events. This means that the resources necessary for recovery should be provided with reference to the bonds that people feel with a place, and the networks of relationships within their community.

Accordingly, the citizens of Paris should support people who are suffering and vulnerable, as well as engaging in collective efforts to cope.

There are further limits to the benefits of collective mourning. Even when the dominant response to atrocities like the Paris attacks is non-violent defiance, solidarity and a desire not to let terrorists “win”, this does not mean that everyone will feel the same way. Emotions are not always contagious, and experiencing solidarity with fellow citizens doesn’t exclude the possibility that people will also feel other, more aggressive, impulses. This is evident from the recent surge in applications to join the French army.

It is also possible that some people will project their anger and hatred towards those they perceive as “outsiders” or minority groups. That’s why it’s crucial for authorities to manage protests and demonstrations with sensitivity: if these events are fuelled by anger, or target minority groups, they will inevitably escalate tensions within the local community and increase the likelihood of further tragic violence.

The citizens of Paris still have a long mourning process in front of them. Feelings are still raw, and have the potential to be shaped by further events. There are likely to be intense emotional peaks at key moments, such as the re-opening of places where people have been killed. Eventually, anniversaries and longer-term decisions – such as whether to dedicate monuments or memorials to the victims – will cause people to reflect on and re-experience feelings of grief and sorrow.

While displays of respect, solidarity and community “spirit” are by no means a cure-all for the lasting social impacts of terrorist attacks, they clearly have a significant role to play. Whatever happens, it’s now more important than ever to ensure that everyone is included in the mourning process. By doing so, Paris will emerge from this tragedy as a stronger, more unified city. The Conversation

Gavin Brent Sullivan is reader in identity and resilience in communities and organisations at Coventry University..

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.

Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.