Availability and quality of London’s public realm have long been a focus of much debate –and admittedly much collaboration–between the private and public sectors, policymakers and communities. But the current pandemic raised the bar for how we approach our public realm. Streets, squares, parks used to impact our wellbeing, shape our socialising, shopping and commute patterns, notwithstanding the well-known correlation between successful public realm and property values. Now, public space design and management have become vital to our very health, too.
Finding a balance between supporting London’s urban economies and creating lasting social and environmental value by adapting the city’s great public realm is more important than ever.
In this time of unprecedented changes, there are, however, even more powerful forces in play across the entire spectrum of the urban environment and real estate markets. New behaviours of both work and play are likely to put London’s famous resilience to test. Some of these demands on London’s public realm, in particular social distancing, are completely new. But many are accelerated versions of powerful trends that have started to transform both business and built environment landscapes in the UK and globally way before the start of the pandemic: a shift towards fluid workplace, changes in consumer behaviour or the climate change agenda. In our Global Outlook 2030published early in 2020, we discussed these new ways to experience Real Estate in the next decade, but now it is almost like we have to embrace the future much sooner than we ever expected. In these uncertain and challenging times, how can better and more responsive public space help create and sustain lasting social and commercial equity?
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”, said Winston Churchill, and this time we really should not. Rather, all these competing pressures faced by public realm need to be considered to inform innovations in priority uses, engagement strategies and partnership models for better public space in London.
Below we discuss the areas where we think the changes affecting public space will yield tangible and lasting benefits for London and map out the key enablers for this to happen.
The rise of the slow street: reclaiming the city with green commutes
The new urban mobility agenda, aimed at reducing car traffic and making the city more walkable and bikeable, has been an important part of the London Plan and the mayoral transport strategy for a while. Responding to new demands of social distancing and mitigating a dramatic decrease of public transport capacity, the city introduced a bold Streetspace plan, involving creation of a strategic cycling network, widening pavements and further reducing traffic among other measures.
A ten-fold increase in cycling, and up to five-fold increase in walking is anticipated in post-lockdown London