Things got a whole lot more local than I expected due to coronavirus

Playing catch with my son out back in the common area while "sheltering in place."

On March 12, I shared five #LocalYear commitments to help me go more local. Little did I know how local things would get in just one week.

The next day local schools closed due to the coronavirus. 

Three days later six San Francisco Bay Area counties, including ours, issued a “shelter in place” order affecting seven million people in California’s coronavirus hotspot.

Three days after that, Gov. Gavin Newsom did the same for all of California.

Ordinary life in California has come to a near standstill. Birdsong has replaced the howl of traffic in my neighborhood. Downtown Mountain View is a near ghost town. Many shops and restaurants are closed, some for good. Aside from daily walks, my family is staying at ground zero of local — our house. 

While we’re experiencing “shelter in place” in a profoundly local way, this is also a profoundly global experience. Everyone is vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. Many, if not all, will experience what we’re experiencing. It’s the most powerful example in my lifetime of how all our fates on spaceship earth are tied. And many have shifted even more of their lives to the most global of mediums, the internet, as social distancing becomes the new norm.

To say that events have overtaken my experiment is a huge understatement. In light of the magnitude of what has been and will be lost — from loved ones to livelihoods — my life experiment feels irrelevant.  

And it is, but it also isn’t. It’s relevant to me because it has given my life more meaning and focus when I needed it. It has also prepared me for this moment in surprising ways, ways that may be relevant to others. 

For instance, my media diet has helped keep my mind clearer and calmer than normal. While I’m on social media more than I pledged in order to do my job at Shareable, and also, frankly, to witness this crisis unfold in real time among my friends, I feel that I’m accepting what’s happening with more equanimity than I normally would. It’s helped that I’ve replaced my heavy Netflix habit with daily guided meditation. I’m also sleeping better, which does wonders for mood and energy. 

My Cool Block project also became relevant to the coronavirus crisis despite the fact that it got somewhat derailed by it. I had to cancel the second, crucial in-person organizing meeting due to the shelter in place order, but I pivoted to a virtual event that was well attended. I didn’t think I could manage the full 90-minute, multi-part organizing meeting that Cool Block called for in a virtual format, so I designed a shorter, simpler one focused on how we can help each other during the crisis.

This meeting catalyzed a stream of neighborhood activity. Neighbors offered to run errands for each other and share all kinds of surplus goods. The group decided to reach out to the entire neighborhood to offer assistance. Someone set up a Slack group for community projects including Cool Block. We formed committees for two projects which will eventually need HOA approval — planting fruit trees in common areas and EV charging in parking lots. We’re collecting surplus masks to meet a shortage at local hospitals and compiling a list of restaurants that are open for take out. And before the meeting, one Cool Block member left cocktails on another member’s doorstep! Now that’s loving thy neighbor.   

Ironically, I’ve never had so much contact with my neighbors as during social distancing! My Cool Block organizing work couldn’t have been more timely. That said, I’m not sure if I can get the project back on track. The program doesn’t recommend doing it virtually, but I don’t know how long we’ll be sheltering in place due to the coronavirus. It could be months. I need to find a way forward. That might be with Cool Block or more organic cooperation that seems easier now that I’ve connected with my neighbors. 

Another unexpected development is that I’ve had more time with my family, especially my son Jake who I’m homeschooling. I’m learning more about his needs as a learner. It’s already become clear that I need to spend much more time with him on schoolwork.   

I’ve also had a blast with him during breaks. We’ve been tossing the football out back in our beautiful common area. He’s gotten super creative with his pass patterns. He zigs and zags through groves of Redwood trees. He goes long and dives for catches landing in mud. One pattern involved spinning around a lamppost.

That I didn’t think of improving family life as part of #LocalYear is something worth examining and changing. I will. 

All in all, I’m heartened that my neighbors and many others are defining this moment as one of social solidarity with physical distance, not social distance. We’ve chosen our response, and it’s to come together.


This post is part of Neal Gorenflo’s year long experiment on living locally (#LocalYear). Follow his journey by reading the other posts in his series:

Neal Gorenflo


Neal Gorenflo | |

Neal Gorenflo is the co-founder and board president of Shareable, an award-winning nonprofit news, action network, and consultancy for the sharing transformation. An epiphany in 2004 inspired Neal to

Things I share: Time with friends and family, stories, laughs, books, tools, ideas, nature, resources, passions, my network.