COVID-19 How coronavirus could reshape our cities forever
COVID-19 has reshaped the way we live and it will undoubtedly have a lasting impact long after the pandemic is over. As our daily routines have changed, so have the cities we live in. In the aftermath of coronavirus, we might expect to see transformations in our transportation systems, public spaces and even in the architecture of our buildings.
Many municipalities have already started planning how their cities will be transformed once the pandemic is over. Melbourne, for example plans to provide its residents with access to shopping, leisure and work, all within 20-minutes of their homes. Similarly, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo has set out plans to transform France’s capital into a ‘15-minute city’ where all amenities are accessible within a 15-minute walk or bicycle ride. Let’s take a closer look at how coronavirus could reshape our cities forever:
Micromobility and the ‘six-foot city’
COVID-19 has already started to reshape urban mobility. Rather than travelling across the city for shopping and entertainment, these things are coming to us via delivery drivers and live streams.
Until now, the future of mass transport looked like it would be driverless vehicles. However, with private cars largely disappearing from our roads due to travel restrictions, the future may now look a little different.
Post pandemic, we could see cities investing more in micromobility. Bicycles and e-scooters, for example could come to replace cars as governments start to see the benefits of improved air quality and reduced congestion.
The term ‘six-foot city’ is already been used to describe increased pedestrian space in urban areas. Cities like Milan, London and Paris have all responded to the need for micromobility by reclaiming their roads for new uses.
Driving lanes, bus lanes and taxi lanes are being reclaimed as bike lanes and in some cities, roads are being reclaimed as pedestrianised spaces for outdoor restaurants and café seating. Such steps could make cities more resilient and more sustainable after the pandemic.
Reducing traffic congestion
To ensure our cities don’t return to pre-pandemic levels of traffic congestion, governments and businesses need to consider how to keep traffic and CO2 levels down. We might expect to see an increase in carpooling schemes where businesses and cities incentivize residents to share their daily commutes with co-workers.
For cities to reduce the number of private cares on our roads, public transport will need to be safe and efficient. The demand for commuter routes will also need to be met, which could be achieved by increasing public transport coverage and addressing the first and last-mile problem that many of our cities face.
On-demand shuttle buses, for example, like Detroit’s Night Shift service, could help cities provide extra coverage, servicing areas with fewer public transport options. Likewise, bike sharing schemes, like Lyon’s Vélo'v Program could be used to group docking stations by proximity between origin and destination, ensuring short journeys to and from public stations are catered for.
Public and green spaces
COVID-19 has challenged many cities to provide more space for its residents. With two-metre rules being imposed across Europe and many other cities worldwide, city planning departments have had to consider how to make the most of existing spaces. Post pandemic, we could see public and green spaces transformed to allow for more physical space between residents.
Athens, for example, is widening its pavements, making public squares larger and banning traffic from certain areas in the city. Whereas public spaces used to be about sharing, we could see a shift towards spaces being about social distancing and isolation.
Until recently, public spaces have served as the foundation of sharing in urban areas. In the future, we could see spaces develop with our ideal for living, whatever that may be.
Open-plan offices, co-working spaces and student hubs were all the rage before the pandemic hit. They where places of social interaction and high-density work environments. However, with most employees across Europe having to work from home for prolonged periods, we could see a change in our cities’ architecture.
We may assume that an increasing number of businesses will continue to offer remote working opportunities after the pandemic, which will reduce the need for office space. This could see former office buildings being reclaimed for other purposes like apartments. And those office blocks that do continue to exist may have to change to accommodate social distancing, with lower occupation densities. Event spaces may also be reshaped to discourage large-scale gatherings. Our once-fully-packed music and theatre venues may change to allow more distance between audience members.
The term ‘new normal’ has perhaps been overused of late, however, urban residents are getting used to many of the changes we’ve seen in cities over the last year. They’ve started to see the hidden benefits like reduced congestion, improve air quality and lower crime rates.
Through time, governments, businesses and architects will get better at visualising what urban spaces should look like post pandemic in order to aid the recovery of our economy and communities.