Post-pandemic neighbourhood – brave old world with new tools

02 Jun 21

Our neighbourhoods have become our places of living, work, leisure and sport. Is now the time to dismantle our established residential decorum and rethink what neighbourhoods could be in the future?

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Our neighbourhoods have become our places of living, work, leisure and sport. Is now the time to dismantle our established residential decorum and rethink what neighbourhoods could be in the future?

Throughout the last year, there has been much talk about the future of our high streets and office spaces. But what about our residential areas, where we have been working and living for the last 18 months or so? The technological changes, online shopping and Zoom gatherings have greatly diminished our need for movement, spending more and more time within our neighbourhoods. It is easier with these future changes to allow us to live separately and rely on a virtual community, but our wellbeing is being tested. Cabin fever does creep in.

More than ever before, it is now time to dismantle our established approaches and rethink what neighbourhoods could be in the future. People are gregarious animals, they like the serendipity of meeting others, to look someone in the eye, to read their body language. Within this context, the post-pandemic neighbourhoods would need to be self-sustainable, and it will have some familiar attributes:

  • Is everything I need a few minutes away?
  • Does it feel safe?
  • Is it easy to walk around, to places where there will be other people?
  • Can I take my laptop to a workspace away from home, where there is coffee and a sandwich?
  • Can that place be near the school or creche so I can pick up the kids on time?
  • Can I buy a pint of milk without getting in the car?
  • Is there a park or some nature nearby?
  • Has the nearby bus stop got real time services displayed for when my teenagers arrive from college?

Some of these are well established principles of good urban design, often forgotten due to our dependency on commuting. With the shift in our living habits, we are likely to be far more reliant on our local markets, our community halls and our commons. Successful existing neighbourhoods have stood the test of time as they have adapted over centuries, through conflicts and previous pandemics. The resilience they display has steered the national guidance currently being published:

  • The 10 principles of the National Design Guide are as straightforward as you can get.
  • The National Model Design Code mirrors these and seeks to embed these in the specifics of good buildings, streets and spaces.
  • Active Travel prompts places for people to say “can I live in this neighbourhood and not own a car, or at least go down to one car for the home”.
  • Local Transport Note 1/20 prompts the question “can my child cycle to school by themselves through a safe convenient network?”

Whilst this policy shift towards placemaking appears as an undercurrent of the pandemic, Iceni has always advocated for dynamic places where residents can live, work and ‘play’ within their neighbourhoods. Iceni’s Design and Futures teams bring together skills from our Urban Design, Sustainability, Transport, Engagement, Heritage and Planning teams; looking beyond the immediate constraints and delivering future proof strategic visions for new settlements and extensions.

Nairita Chakraborty Associate,Built Heritage and Townscape

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