COVID19 can reshape cities for the better

COVID19 can reshape cities for the better

Whisper it softly, but COVID19 might have helped our cities evolve and change for the better. The immediate impact has been devastating for city centre businesses. But maybe these catastrophic events will lead to a different way forward. COVID19 can reshape cities for the better.

It is not like everything was great for city centres before COVID19 hit the High Street. Around 12 months ago holiday firm Thomas Cook collapsed, partly as a result of people moving online for travel bookings. The shift of shopping to online retailers was already wrecking havoc on the High Street before COVID19.

Lockdown has added to the misery for the City Centre. Cities which were dependent for office workers have especially suffered. Employees have seen for themselves the benefits of swapping the commute to work, for a more productive day working from home. Employers have started to calculate the cost of empty office space and started to question whether it really is essential for their staff to be in the office.

The economic damage from COVID19 and the prolonged lockdown in English cities is clear to see. But all is not lost. If COVID19 can reshape cities for the better, then this is the time to be engaging new voices. Young people who can bring new ideas and a different perspective, excluded communities, older people.  Let’s bring some excitement and innovation in a staid world, previously dominated by large chain stores and landlords with little invested in the local community.

Eat Out to Help Out can help.

Eat out to take out is proving popular, but what will happen when the scheme ends?  It seems unlikely we’ll all stop going to restaurants and bars.  But the crucial thing is whether we’ll be spending less on the High Street. Will we really give up the convenience of online shopping to return to the High Street? Possibly yes, if the High Street gives us an experience we can’t get at home. 

Much of the UK has benefitted from very hot weather in August.  And some very heavy downpours.   The point being will we feel the same about regularly dining out in Autumn, when it is dark and cold.  Probably not.   To keep us out and about and spending an extension of Eat Out, to Help Out is needed.  

Too risky?

What risks are acceptable to you. Are you someone who carries around a re-useable mask with you all time. Or are you someone who rocks up to the shops, knowing that the shop workers can’t enforce the law. So what if someone does challenge you? You will go and get a covering from the shop counter. Easy peasy. Risk that is the problem. We all have a different perception of risk.

Long term the real answer is mass roll out of vaccine, so that we all feel safe.   Most restaurants and pubs are going to great lengths to keep their premises safe.  Tables are spaced, paper menus extended, contact tracing in place.  But what if the problem isn’t with the restaurant or pub.  Maybe the problem is that everyone has a different perception of risk.   And when those customers come into (reasonably) close contact in pubs and restaurants, older generations – and those more at risk from COVID19 may decide that a night of Netflixs and a takeaway is safer bet.

The COVID19 generation will have a different perception of risk and what is safe. That is why we need some new thinking about the City Centre and High Streets. This could be a really exciting time in which ideas that were once seen as revolutionary can be put into practice. Imagine if cities and High Streets were re-designed where the needs of local communities were put first.