What is the future of urban and suburban neighbourhoods in a post-pandemic world?

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Principal | Urban Designer

As the COVID-19 pandemic spills into 2021, its impact on the way we live has been enormous. Whether it’s from changing our daily routines, adjusting to remote working and home-based learning, or limiting our social interactions within our communities, we’ve seen and experienced the long-term effects of our new reality.

So how do those long-term changes influence and direct our notions of resilient design in a post-pandemic world? For starters, everything we think we know about how to design urban and suburban neighborhoods.

During the March 2020 lockdown in Via Venuto, Rome, the government subjected many Venetians to an ordinance that restricted traveling more than 200-meters from their homes. Imagine the challenge of not having any access to daily needs, such as groceries, pharmacies, open spaces or playgrounds- that did not reside within two football fields from your home?

In this document, I have included several considerations and opportunities from recent discourses on ways to make our residential townships and neighborhoods more resilient in a post-pandemic world.

Suburban living with urban benefits

One of the pandemic’s long-term effects is the way we commute, which is different for everybody. Noticeably, there is an increase in remote work arrangement, more flexibility in public transit options and school drop-off/pick- up routines, and more careful planning to ensure safer public realms.

A renewed focus on public health means the renewed public expectation for a more collaborative approach between neighborhood planning and public health. Many urbanists have long ridiculed our suburban sprawl and aspired a more compact, higher-density urban neighborhood. But just as previous pandemics contributed to the Garden Suburb movement (planned along the lines of a Garden City), COVID-19 has triggered a renewed appreciation of our suburban spaces such as balconies, backyard gardens, private decks and garage workshops.

Up until 2019, many environmentalists have attributed sprawling suburbs to our increased carbon footprint. According to researchers at the University of California, suburbs took responsibility for almost 50 per cent of all residential carbon emissions in the U.S. “Frequent and long-distance car rides” were mainly to blame.

So, with this in mind, if COVID-19 pushes people to the suburbs, how can we make them more environmentally friendly?

Talib Visram for Fast Company touches on two ideas:

  1. Suburban living with city benefits
  2. New suburban culture needs a new generation

The first idea is about a more progressive planning approach, Barcelona, Spain Superblocks model including more mixed-use zones, more pedestrian-friendly developments, active transportation and form-based zoning.

The “15-minute City” concept has also made a comeback. The “15-minute City” generally means a community where people can work, shop, learn and play within a 15-minute (or 800-meter radius) walk or bike ride. Besides being touted as a post-pandemic recovery, economists view it as a way to boost the economy.

Barcelona was among the earliest to promote their Superblock concept as a resilient design for urban neighborhoods. Urban planners based the idea on “increasing sustainability mobility, revitalizing public areas, fostering biodiversity and urban vegetation, fostering the city’s social fabric and promoting cohesion, promoting self-sufficiency in the use of resources, and integrating governance processes.”

Other cities like Melbourne, Ottawa, Detroit and Paris, have since undergone similar changes for their citizens to meet their daily routines and cultural needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride in an increasingly car- free transit and pedestrianized environment.

Enjoy the future of urban and suburban neighborhoods?

Download your FREE copy of "Design the New Normal II: the future of urban and suburban neighborhoods in a post-pandemic world" HERE. If you run into any issues, please email rebecca@nadigroup.com for your copy.

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