Lessons for Resilience
Consider how to transform public spaces to create more equitable and viable city centres
COVID-19 has seen cities and local areas rapidly change how public spaces are used. In an effort to improve the daily lives and wellbeing of communities during the pandemic cities have implemented changes that were previously thought to be “radical”. How these temporary measures can transition to permanent design is a key renewal strategy in Sydney which is focusing on the vision of a people-centred city that aims to tackle the various social, health and equity challenges that recovery will bring. Their recent study, based on international best practice and data tracking, explains how to look beyond “basic infrastructure and traffic to create a city that people want to live in, visit, work and spend time in”. Consider the renewal recommendations set out in ‘Sustainable Sydney 2050, towards a more attractive and liveable city’:
Create ‘a city for all’
- Co-produce the planning and design of public spaces with the community and stakeholder groups
- Collect “public life data” and evaluate this data to inform decision-making
- Provide welcome spaces, increase facilities for children, close streets off to traffic at lunch time, expand the use of community buildings and ensure free Wi-Fi across the city – to make public spaces “more attractive for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds”
- Support “public art and creative expression” to engage communities in the design of the city
Build a ‘green and cool city’
- Reinforce and drive action in “emissions control, waste, water and greening”
- Expand “tree canopies, biodiversity and the use of shade structures and awnings in public spaces”
- Upgrade transport links between the “city, parklands and the harbour” to improve mobility in and around public spaces
Protect the ‘heart’ of the city
- Transform the currently “traffic-dominated streets to people friendly streets”
- Capitalise on the “Metro, train and light rail infrastructure as the most efficient modes of transport for people”
- Increase walking space and pathways across the city
- Improve the connection of cycle networks to other transport networks (Metro/train) to promote cycling
The strategy also includes long-terms plans for four new “green avenues” which are “arterial roadways identified for transformation with reduced traffic, increased tree plantings and space for people”. A key message in the strategy is that partnerships between “all levels of governments, businesses and the community” is key to transforming cities.
Consider deploying COVID Marshals to engage, explain and encourage compliance with COVID-19 rules
During national lockdowns and tiered restrictions, visitation to public spaces such as parks has increased dramatically. This increased concentration of people in particular areas poses risk of virus transmission from those who are not abiding by COVID rules. Despite their best efforts, Police have limited capacity to respond to breaches of COVID-19 regulations. As a result there are many breaches going unchallenged and reports of a culture of breaches taking hold. Volunteers, namely COVID Marshals or Ambassadors, can create more capacity to engage, explain and encourage compliance and, when combined with a public app to report breaches, can target deployment to breach hot spots. Consider:
- Identify the types of breaches it may be appropriate to deploy COVID Marshals to so they can engage, explain and encourage compliance
- Identify, select, and train people who may be suitable as COVID Marshals (follow ISO22319)
- Identify safe working practices for the COVID Marshals e.g. deployment in pairs
- Using reports from the public to identify public spaces where breaches are likely to occur
- Develop a system to deploy, monitor, support, and debrief COVID Marshals
United States of America
Consider how cities can shift from urban planning to social planning amid the COVID-19 pandemic
In recent years urban planning has revolved around principles of shared spaces e.g. shared offices, vehicles, city squares and parks, and available transport to help people travel to urban centres so that they can access goods and services. COVID-19 has required cities to revaluate these in light of radically changed human behaviour that relies on distancing from one another. Spaces therefore need to be thought about differently, not just as the physical spaces we inhabit, but as complex realities that can meet a variety of functions. Consider how social planning can:
- Relieve loneliness and allow for spending time with friends and family in the open air
- Facilitate alternative safe work environments e.g. moving meetings from offices to outdoor spaces
- Renovating urban spaces to meet new multi-functional requirements while considering the need for green space
Consider also, that social planning may require increased investment in infrastructure and services such as:
- Free and reliable WiFi in outdoor spaces to help meet the requirements of spaces as places that can accommodate work
- Localising 'downtown' areas e.g. ensuring every neighbourhood is serviced with essential shops and services to avoid unnecessary travel
Consider the impacts on green spaces as national lockdowns are implemented
Green spaces have become fundamental to people's physical and mental wellbeing through COVID-19, especially during periods of lockdown. Increased use of these spaces requires some adaptations to green space management to ensure the recovery of both people and the environment. Consider:
- Campaigns to make the public aware that many green spaces and parks in the UK are run by local volunteers - and that the limited funding and capacity means that essential services such as waste collection are limited and the public can help by taking their litter home with them to not cause litter issues
- Campaigns to boost volunteer numbers to help the maintenance of green spaces
- Increased signage in local green spaces to remind people that they can help protect their local ecosystems in times where green spaces are seeing increased human traffic by:
- Sticking to paths to avoid disturbing woods and meadows
- Not disturbing deadwood as this is vital to local ecosystems
- Not removing anything from the green space
- Taking litter home
Consider the effect green and open spaces on individuals and communities in relation to physical health, wellbeing and the environment
COVID-19 has exposed disparities in access to open and green space. Improved access can have positive effects on physical and mental health, communities as a whole and the environment. Consider impacts on:
- Provides areas for exercise, and improves mental health
- Park closures and restrictions on movement due to COVID-19 negatively and disproportionately effects those without gardens and those who are less economically well off
- Increasing the quantity of green spaces reduces traffic which reduces pollution and encourages city safety
- Green space for social housing directly addresses socio-economic disparities regarding
- Can simultaneously address other environmental factors such as flood risk management
Consider integrating climate change, society and pandemic learning into urban planning as part of Renewal
In Denmark, an urban development project considers:
- Mitigating loneliness e.g. day-care for children has been integrated into a nursing home
- Bike lanes that link the suburbs to larger cities
- Availability of accessible green spaces to support mental and physical wellbeing
- Social housing to improve quality of life of poor or marginalized people. This includes a health focus on proximity living which can increase risk of disease
- Renewable energy supply to the building to provide energy security which is important during emergencies
This lesson was contributed by a Chief Resilience Officer in Denmark during project data collection.
Consider that strategic renewal should address different aspects of the environment
This includes the built environment including buildings and roads and green spaces, like parks. Consider how future development of the environment can mitigate possible resurgence of COVID-19 infection by providing space to better facilitate social distancing. Consider:
- Incorporate into planning approval, criteria that new housing development proposals should include green space including 'green roofs' or communal gardens and squares
- Incorporate into planning approval, criteria that new building developments do not reduce public walkways - indeed, they should look to expand public walkways
- Use abandoned spaces as pocket parks (with limitations on the number of people allowed in together)
- Temporarily close roads to provide more walking space
This lesson was contributed by a Chief Resilience Officer in the Netherlands during project data collection.
Consider how use of public space will need to be transformed, especially in urban centres or historic towns.
In the UK, parts of the city of York is made up of very narrow lanes in which social distancing would not be possible. The following measures, which could be applied to other locations with similar city designs are considered:
- Develop a pedestrian one-way-system with road markings, cones or barriers to mitigate people having to pass closely to one another. Consider markings that are temporary to preserve areas of historic interest
- Install hand sanitiser dispensers on streets, recognising that these may be alcohol based
- Initiate measures to keep pedestrians moving such as restricting photography
Consider how to continue to benefit from reduced traffic as a result of lockdown
Cities such as Milan, Italy are developing strategies to retain street space from cars, providing 35km (22 miles) of transformed streets to accommodate an experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. The Strade Aperte plan includes low-cost temporary cycle lanes, new and widened pavements, 30kph (20mph) speed limits, and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets. The locations include a low traffic neighbourhood on the site of the former Lazzaretto.
Similar plans for investments in bicycle-friendly infrastructure is being considered in the Netherlands, with a focus on expansion of the programme in cities and suburbs.
Reference: Chief Resilience Officer, Netherlands
Consider how to manage cities as "people magnets" in light of recovery and a new normal
This can include:
- Don't forget the basics. Urban design should facilitate certain behaviours and feelings, and shape a built environment that creates value (economic, social, environmental, health, individual, safety)
- Consider redefining what we mean by Place+Making. Ultimately, places are a socially constructed phenomena so can the definition of place be broadened i.e. virtual spaces (Milan brought museums and art galleries online, working from home).
- Consider how urban spaces can perpetuate inequities i.e. accessibility, affordability, and how basic needs can be met.
- Learn from inequalities that arise to tackle social issues such as loneliness, discrimination etc.
Consider the impacts on the environment and people's safety when reopening green spaces. Insights from Canada
It is important to consider the impacts on both the environment and people's health and safety when restrictions on movements to national parks, beaches and beauty spots are lifted during recovery. The issue is twofold. Firstly, there are health and safety risks associated with lifting restrictions on access to outdoor spaces. An influx of visitors to national parks and beaches could result in a rise in emergency situations such a person being pulled out to sea or lost on mountains.
Consideration should be given to the possible increased need for, and pressure on, mountain rescue and coast guard services. This draws attention to the need for visitor management, inclusive of carparks at nature sites where social distancing is difficult.
Secondly, many countries are seeing wildlife flourishing, whether this is the return of birds or animals, or the rewilding of green spaces. Lifting restrictions could place extreme pressures on the environment due to the influx of human visitors and may lead to the destruction of habitats. Consideration should be given to working closely with conservation experts and educators to inform governments and the public about how to protect and enjoy these spaces, and to encourage ownership of the conservation process.
Reference: Emergency Planner, Canada