Back in May 2020, we published the blog post “COVID-19: Now Is the Time to Make the City We Imagined Possible” in which we reflected on the implications and opportunities that the global pandemic had revealed regarding our urban spaces and the potential role that cities could play in becoming one of the fundamental pillars to dealing with the climate crisis and perhaps, future pandemics.
Now, almost one year on from publishing that article, taking into account the suffering and uncertainty that many of us have had to endure, what has become clear is the fundamental need to redesign and regenerate our urban spaces so that they are centred around the people who live there; the need to design more humane cities which put the health and wellbeing of citizens at the heart of them and which increase social and community relations.
We believe in 'people-focused' cities
We believe that now is the transformational moment to mobilise the concept of ‘people-focused’ cities. We believe that cities can act as one of the key pillars to tackle the structural emergency that derives from the climate crisis, to combat the loss of biodiversity, and to strengthen the wellbeing and health of our communities.
We believe in cities that:
- Prioritise active mobility over vehicle mobility. We need to reduce the public space given to private vehicles and service the wellbeing of citizens, considering social profiles and integrating the gender perspective and generational differences in a real and definitive way. In many cases, we allocate between 60- 70% of our public space to a car mobility system, which accounts for only 25% of journeys. We need to design our streets and squares so that they prioritise active mobility and support the creation of spaces for social relations and the dynamisation of communities. We need to respond to groups such as the elderly, and children, who are often not taken into account when designing public space.
- Decisively and definitively develop a true green and blue infrastructure that promotes public space, private roofs, and facades. Strong green infrastructure directly contributes to the environmental improvement of our cities, to the increase and improvement of their biodiversity, and to an improvement of the wellbeing and health of their citizens.
- Encourage relationship spaces at the community and neighbourhood level. One of the direct consequences of the lockdown period has been the reduction of social possibilities, an element that is especially problematic in particularly vulnerable groups. For this reason, it’s necessary to rethink the way we design our cities and residential spaces to improve them at the community level and to create shared spaces between neighbours. The neighbourhood network becomes a basic structure in our cities, especially in the case of elderly people living alone. Strengthening these community ties can help to respond to the social needs of a large part of the population. It must be a city where services and facilities are distributed so that all citizens have easy access to it.
- Prioritise housing that meets our current needs. We must rethink the housing model. In recent months it has become clear that housing is a basic necessity and must be treated accordingly, prioritising the needs of wellbeing and habitability of all citizens , and considering factors such as ‘home working’ or the need to have terraces or balconies. And not just thinking about private spaces but enhancing all the communal spaces between neighbourhoods to increase the community value. It’s also critical to rediscover spaces, such as the roofs of buildings, which can play an active role in the life of cities as spaces for environmental improvement (green roofs, photovoltaic energy, etc.) but also as welcoming spaces for community use.
- Commit to the development of local businesses and adapt to the emergence of online commerce, the collaborative economy, and models of neighbourhood cooperation. It is necessary to strengthen and consolidate local commerce, and to maintain and extend measures that help to consolidate a local commercial network, making it a key element of neighbourhood vitality. E-commerce has also become a commonly used alternative channel used by many people, following a trend that was already consolidating before the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen business strategies to ensure that this type of selling integrates environmental efficiency criteria in all its phases (production, packaging, logistics and distribution) to minimize its impact on urban environments. We have also seen a rise in models that digitize local business and facilitate its distribution to all citizens, even to groups with greater digital exclusion. The link between these two elements (local business and home delivery) forces us to rethink models to make them complementary and not be considered incompatible systems.
- Adapt to new production and job access models. The pandemic has also highlighted the issues of production activities and job access. These factors can have an impact on urban life, based on the need to analyse in detail the changes that may occur in the coming years in the way we work and produce. For example, things like home working (a key aspect during these days of confinement) can change our ‘workplace access’ habits and the way we design and use corporate headquarters and offices. It is certainly a great opportunity to untie the direct correlation between economic growth and increased mobility. There is a preferred model of ‘workplace access’ that is clearly committed to the reconciliation of work and family life, under a gender perspective and that puts all profiles of citizenship on an equal level playing field.
Mobilising the concept of a ‘healthy city’
We believe that the concept of a healthy city, one which we work with and believe in, should be developed within a framework that integrates all these criteria. Therefore, we believe that it is essential to promote the concept of more humane cities that put the health of citizens first, prioritise wellbeing, and encourage healthy habits. It is also necessary to boost the social and community dynamisation of cities as a key element to increase their resilience to phenomena such as those we have experienced in recent months.
We must therefore accelerate the process of humanising cities, gaining spaces for citizens, and promoting local nature. The concept of the ‘healthy city’ can be a vehicle for many of the measures and solutions to improve the public space of cities. This concept has already been a topic of discourse in the urban construction and design industries in recent months. The crisis that we are still experiencing can serve to enrich and reinforce this concept, to build cities adapted to the real needs of all citizens and allow the sense of community to be strengthened.
Written by Nacho Guilera, Green City and Biodiversity Manager, Anthesis Lavola and based on contributions from the City and Biodiversity team.