Now is the time to make possible the city we imagine

A few days ago, we published the article “COVID-19 crisis: an opportunity to rethink our cities” in which we analyzed the implications of the pandemic in areas such as urban planning, public space, and urban mobility. That first reflection was focused on the short term and how we thought we should act over the next few weeks and months. In fact, initiatives that go in this direction can already be seen in many cities, which we hope can lead to a debate about the continuity of the measures that are being implemented, whether they are a one-time specific actions or they can become structural.

From Anthesis Lavola we believe that this moment can be transformed into a unique opportunity as a testbed to analyze the feasibility of the several measures that may come to stay. The upcoming weeks may become a turning point in the definition of a new way of understanding the cities. And it is time for a long-term reflection that will face opinions that could curb this possible optimism.

This reflection must lead us to cities that, at the same time as responding to the specific crisis of COVID19, they become one of the fundamental pillars to deal with the structural emergency that derives from the climate crisis and, perhaps, from future pandemics.

We must think of cities that:

  • Reduce the public space given to the private vehicle and put it at the service of the well-being of citizens, considering all the citizen’s social profiles and integrating the gender perspective and generational differences in a real and definitive way. These days, photographs of empty cities have highlighted the excessive space we allocate to private cars, which, in the case of Barcelona, only accounts for 15% of internal journeys and 25% of the total. We, therefore, allocate between 60 and 70% of our public space to a mobility system that accounts for only 25% of the journeys.
  • Decisively and definitively develop a true green and blue infrastructure that articulates public space and private roofs and facades. Nowadays, Studies are being carried out on how the availability of green spaces and nature in or near the same building may have contributed to greater well-being in these days of confinement. Good green infrastructure becomes a directly related element to the environmental improvement of cities, to the increase and improvement of their biodiversity, and to an improvement of the well-being and health of citizens.
  • Encourage relationship spaces at the community and neighborhood level: One of the direct consequences of the confinement period has been the reduction of social relations in the physical sphere, an element that is especially problematic in certain more vulnerable groups. For this reason, it is 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 neighbors.
  • Rethink their housing model. These days it has become clear that housing is a basic necessity and must be treated accordingly, putting in the first place the needs of well-being and habitability of all citizens, and considering elements such as telework or the need to have terraces or balconies. This makes It necessary to rethink the way we will have to design and distribute our homes. And not just thinking about private spaces but enhancing all the spaces of the relationship between neighborhoods to increase the community value. A vital value in days like the ones we are living. Also, during these days we have rediscovered spaces, such as the building’s roofs, which can play an active role in the life of cities as spaces for environmental improvement (to create green roofs, generate photovoltaic energy, etc.). And also as living and welcoming spaces for community use or, even in the near future, for socio-economic diversification activities.
  • Commit to the development of local businesses and adapt to the possible outbreak of online commerce, the collaborative economy, and models of neighborhood cooperation. One of the effects we are experiencing these days is, on the one hand, the increase in proximity shopping – due to the difficulty of making long journeys – and, on the other, the increase in online shopping and the emergence of home delivery systems -Many times self-managed- from the local business. Therefore, we must take this opportunity to strengthen and consolidate local business and maintain and extend the measures that have been taken these days and which have shown that having a local business network is a key element for the neighborhoods vitality. E-commerce has also become an alternative used by many people, following a trend that was already consolidating before the COVID crisis19. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen the 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. It should also be borne in mind that these days have proliferated models to digitize local business and at the same time 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 antagonistic systems.

  • Adapt to new production and job access models: This crisis has also put the issue on the table for elements related to production activities and job access. These elements can have an impact on urban life, based on the need to analyze in detail the changes that may occur in the coming years in the way we work and produce.   For example, things like telework (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.

At Anthesis Lavola we are convinced that the concept of a healthy city in which we believe and work, becomes an integrative framework of all these criteria. Therefore, we must take advantage of these days learnings to strengthen the need to design more humane cities, which put the health of citizens at the center and prioritize their well-being and the promotion of healthy habits. In the coming months we will see how people will want to enjoy more public space and it will be necessary to consider whether the way we have designed it to support this use.

In sum, it is necessary to deepen and accelerate the humanization process of cities, gaining spaces for citizens and promoting proximity nature. The concept of a healthy city should be strengthened in this process and it can be an area used to promote many of the measures and solutions to improve the cities public space. It must be remembered that it was an area that in recent months was already in the discussion on construction and urban design, and the current crisis must serve to enrich and reformulate this concept. It is time to add new elements or criteria that may have been clearly shown throughout this crisis and that will improve the quality of life and well-being of citizens, strengthen the role of cities in the challenge of climate emergency and increase the level of resilience and contingency for hypothetical future situations similar to the one we are experiencing these days.

Article written by Nacho Guilera, Green City and Biodiversity Manager based on contributions of City and Biodiversity team.