Catalysts of Urban Change Post Coronavirus

Many choose the place they live based on the proximity to where they work, balancing affordability with lifestyle choices. If, following the COVID-19 crisis, people are going to work much more from home, what does this mean for cities?

1. Workplace environment – demands to continue working from home will lead to re-thinking office space.

Post the COVID-19 crisis, many companies are likely to review health measures put in place in their offices. Clearly there will be questions regarding how safe people are in their workplace when sat so closely to one another. In the short term, many will probably feel uncomfortable going back to packed meeting rooms and tight open-plan desk arrangements.

It remains to be seen whether working from home in such large numbers proves successful and productive.

2. Commuting – reduced commutes and greater working from home in the long-term will lead us to reimagine our transport and digital infrastructure

Many people working from home seemed to have quickly adapted to this new reality. Thanks to various digital tools and cloud-based systems, everyone can keep in close contact with colleagues and keep delivering a great service to their clients.

But there is one thing that nobody is doing – travel. Staying at home has reduced our daily commute to zero and this gives many people living in cities on average an extra two hours a day. Some who live outside the city gain up to three, four and sometimes five extra hours a day. Post COVID-19, everyone will be asking themselves if this commute is worth it.

In the short to even medium term, it is very likely that daily commutes will reduce. Cities, transport providers, policy makers and wider industry will be closely examining this for longer-term changes in the use patterns of public (and private) transport. This is likely to raise questions on how we strategically plan our infrastructure.

3. Caring – with an increased sense of care in our local communities, more will be needed to improve the liveability within them

In this time of crisis people are all caring much more for one another. Many employers check-in on their employees on a daily basis. Videoconferencing gives a more equal voice amongst employees, resulting in many cases in a greater sense of involvement by everyone.

Many are taking better care of themselves too. But above all, there seems to be a collective sense of caring across all parts of the community. 

When this crisis is over, no doubt there will be a stronger focus on strengthening communities and improving the liveability within them. Whilst many cities have been for many years engaging residents, businesses and other stakeholders as part of the planning process to meet the aspirations of communities, there were clearly many communities around the world which have been left behind.

This now has to change.

4. Leisure time – with city populations more penalised on leisure during this crisis, it could signify a move to redefine high-density living

Many are clearly trying to spend more time on productive leisure activities.

Active sport plays a big part in this. People go out once a day for exercise and whilst at home do their best to keep active and healthy. The other thing is culture. As we can’t spend time in galleries, theatres or concerts, we try and use our private spaces to accommodate cultural activities like reading, playing an instrument, or watching a movie.

But not everyone can accommodate quality leisure time equally during COVID-19. Actually, it seems like people’s fortunes have flipped almost overnight. Those who once chose to pay premium to live in city centre locations and were used to living close to work, enjoy great public transport, access to parks, museums and restaurants, now struggle to accommodate the same quality leisure activities they were used to, living in a city centre apartment. On the contrary, those who chose to live outside central urban areas and commute more to work, in favour of larger private space and a big garden, now find this isolation period less harmful.

Probably one of the most interesting debates on the future of cities post COVID-19 will be on the future of high density living.

It is plain to see that the major outbreaks of Coronavirus currently take place in major global cities, and in many of these cities high density living that is integrated with major transport hubs are a norm. The question of the impact of high density (and higher levels of urbanity) on our health is one that many are currently asking.

5. Collaboration – with increased digital collaboration, there is an opportunity to protect globalisation whilst significantly reducing travel related carbon emissions

In this time of crisis, when the only way to battle this pandemic is isolation, we can actually see collaboration effort levels increase. At least these efforts are now more visible.

There is clearly an industry-wide collaborative effort to combat this crisis and learn from lessons of others.

Companies, mayors, universities and other organisations are working together as a collective to ensure that we can all get safely to the other side of this. There are already great examples of innovation through collaborative (and also voluntary) efforts to provide a much needed emergency support to the health system.

We see major convention centres and stadiums converted to temporary hospitals, leveraging optimised logistics systems and large, flexible indoor space. We see designers, engineers and scientists working on new prototypes for medical care units and respiratory solutions.

This is all done via the available online platforms. No planes, no trains, no cars. But all truly global, and great for the environment as well.

There is a lesson to be learned here.

There are many saying now that COVID-19 signals the end of globalisation as we know it. There is an opportunity here to actually be much more global and far reaching than we used to be. And we can also do this while we protect the environment.

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