COMMENT I set up the Quality of Life Foundation to make wellbeing central to the way we create and care for our homes and communities. The coronavirus lockdown has shown us all how important where we live is in determining our quality of life — from how much space we have to what shops and services we can access within a short walk or drive from our home. Those of us in the business of designing and developing buildings and neighbourhoods should now be thinking about how we can improve it in the longer term. If we start asking the right questions now, then who knows, perhaps we can make something good come out of this.
Give people greater control
We need to give people a greater sense of control over their environment. People’s agency has diminished as people’s freedoms have been curtailed during the lockdown, but the creation of spontaneous mutual aid and community groups has meant that people can and will take control when they are able. We need to help build on these newly revitalised networks to listen to what local people want and need from new developments in their area. Let’s get them involved earlier through local plans, meaningful consultation on developments and the widespread digitisation of the planning process — one of the positives to have come out of the lockdown.
Improve access to nature
Let’s improve people’s access to nature. Being connected to nature is better for both people and the planet. The decision to close parks in cities presented a nightmare for those cooped up in small flats, but the restrictions on car use in suburban or rural locations has shown that it’s not just city-dwellers who have difficulties getting closer to nature. We need to make sure new developments invest in green spaces and maintain them so that a connection to nature is central to every neighbourhood.
Invest in green infrastructure
The lockdown has meant cleaner air and a surge in cycling and walking, but as people jump in their cars after lockdown to avoid others, it will have a worsening effect on everyone’s health. Every year, people make more than 200m car journeys of less than 1km — something that cannot continue. We were glad to see the Department of Transport’s call for people to walk and cycle more, and welcome initiatives to disincentivise cars, such as the shutting of roads around schools at pick-up time, but this needs to be backed up by major investment in our green infrastructure and public transport, which faces severe challenges over the coming months.
Support local shops and services
It has never been more important to support the place where you live. As local shops and services struggle to reopen, we need to keep our high streets alive, which means kicking our Amazon habit and shopping and eating locally. And when we do get building again, let’s make sure each new development is properly mixed-use, in close proximity to the shops and local services people need.
Every Thursday night we stand to clap frontline staff, but as well as checking in with neighbours and generally being kind, we also need to ensure that we facilitate and maintain vital local services, from health to refuse. And as thousands of renters are threatened with eviction over the coming months — many of them young or disadvantaged — we must ensure first that they are secure in their homes, and second that we build more affordable homes to reduce the stark inequalities in our housing system.
Play spaces for children (and adults)
Pictures in windows and chalked messages on pavements all create connections with our neighbours, but children have been robbed of valuable play space during the lockdown, and local arts venues have been devastated by loss of earnings. When they reopen, don’t forget to support your local arts venue or theatre, and when we build new developments, let’s do it with children and their play in mind.
This is not an exhaustive list, but the start of a conversation that we hope will lead to something good coming out of this nightmare — something we might all aspire to as we look to the future with something resembling hope.
Sadie Morgan is founder of the Quality of Life Foundation and architecture and design studio dRMM
Originally published at https://www.egi.co.uk on May 27, 2020.