One unintended consequence of Covid-19 is that many of us have become more familiar with our local neighbourhood – and for some that has provided a wake up call.
The government’s lockdown has highlighted the precarious state of our urban centres. In this latest webinar, ULI UK looked at whether wholescale changes now need to be made to our towns and cities.
Opening the discussion, Selina Mason, Director of Master Planning at Lendlease, noted that while Covid-19 has reminded us that health, economy and place are intrinsically linked, many neighbourhoods are not flexible or resilient enough to adapt to life during lockdown.
There has already been significant innovation as businesses have reconfigured space to meet health and safety requirements.
Many town centres have been pedestrianised to encourage cycling and walking. Restaurants and retailers have redesigned the idea of leisure and extended their use of digital platforms, while workplace wellbeing has led to a rethinking of employee needs.
But there remain concerns that pavements will not be able to handle the socially distanced queues that will follow once all stores have reopened, while there remain question marks over whether people can safely travel on our local public transport networks.
Collaboration and public-private partnerships will be critical in driving forward this much-needed diverse innovation post-pandemic. Just as Covid-19 has impacted people and businesses in different ways, each high street and neighbourhood will need to tailor its approach to the post-Covid challenge.
Graeme Craig, Commercial Development Director at Transport for London, and Leigh Johnson, Head of Master Development at Homes England, both proposed that property developers, architects, planners and local authorities will have to come together to guide our urban centres through a wholescale reinvention.
This collaboration will be geared towards creating mixed communities that are rich and diverse and well-supported by amenities, argued Roger Nickells, Partner at Buro Happold.
This may result in a more polycentric approach to larger cities like London and Manchester, as high streets develop their cultural independence and the need for central offices is reconsidered.
Despite the many challenges Covid-19 presents, the current situation has given us an opportunity to think creatively about how neighbourhoods should look in the future, and how the urban environment can better support communities.