As the UK gradually starts to emerge from lockdown, the reflective mood it has created is likely to continue in the property sector, as the nature of what people are looking for from their homes and wider spaces has changed radically.
From the increased demand for outdoor space, to the anticipated exodus from cities to those considering how the commercial property sector might be affected in the light of changing work life models; the impacts of Covid-19 on the way places are developed are likely to be far-reaching.
Urban cycling was already ubiquitous but the pandemic has seen global metropolitan centres invest in pop-up cycling lanes and promise longer term investment in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
The British government has itself rolled out a £250 million fund to allocate more space to cyclists through widening pavements and creating additional cycle lanes, accelerating pre-existing cycle network development plans in a bid to reduce pressure on transport networks and improve public health.
Recent research by YouGov shows that sentiment across Europe supports reducing air pollution by reallocating public space for walking, cycling and public transport.
While this will change the infrastructure of our cities, we might also expect the fabric of office buildings, public squares and residential developments to change, with an increased demand for bike storage and the gradual phasing out or repurposing of car parks in newer buildings.
Sustainability is at the top of the agenda for many larger developers including the likes of Legal & General, which has committed to zero carbon construction by 2030. In addition to eco-credentials, the market might be looking towards investing in properties that offer versatility, whether that be for homeworking in the residential sector, or change of use in the commercial sector, as part of their continued strategy.
Placemaking experts across the board have also been considering how post-pandemic thinking might impact our built environment.
Versatile use of buildings will be vital, and developers will be less keen to be wedded to just one asset class. Expect to see more evolution in the mixed-use development space, allowing for more versatility in the event of further restrictions, unforeseen change in use or more onus on local amenities and services. Many have proclaimed that the rise of localism is here to stay – time will tell.
Technology will also be a vital tool in the placemaking of the future, with methods such as digital twinning gaining ground. The model developed in the German town of Herrenberg incorporates super-computing and other technologies to visualise city data and citizens’ response to spaces to inform better decision-making by town planners and developers.
Herrenberg plans to develop the emerging area of virtual tourism for the town using the model. The town’s residents were able to see changes in the area before they were completed physically, theoretically creating a higher level of acceptance of those changes.
This kind of placemaking technology is still in its infancy, but is gaining popularity, particularly in parts of Asia.
The UK remains as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world where over 2.5 million people don’t live within easy walking distance of a park or other green space.
Green spaces were already important in placemaking but post-Covid, this trend will accelerate to the heart of any well-considered scheme. Projects near or around green space will provide good long-term investment potential, aligned to society’s renewed values and priorities.
One such initiative which aims to address this imbalance, is the newly-proposed West Midlands National Park, which will result in a region-wide spatial vision to kick-start the post-Covid economy, creating hundreds of miles of green space, conservation areas and new cycle routes.
With increasing pressure from green groups, the Chancellor laid out his plans for what he referred to as a national nature service, and as part of the government’s ‘build back greener’ scheme it has set aside £40 million to nature conservation schemes. However, with new legislation changes allowing buildings to change from commercial to residential usage without planning permission under permitted development, and the relaxation of rules on brownfield development to increase UK housebuilding, there is a concern that green space will be forgotten in a bid to bring about a higher density of homes.
Our new Place+ offering at Four Communications is designed to help developers and other placemaking professionals with the complex task ahead; bringing value and shaping communities in the UK and internationally for a new era.
The service combines our extensive sector expertise to help design community-minded and future-proof places using data-driven insights, expert strategic consultancy and marketing services to provide the deeper understanding and strategy necessary for successful placemaking.
Developers and investors will need to apply the wisdom and learnings from this period to shape spaces to balance the lifestyle, socio-economic and ethical considerations of the new post-pandemic era.
With forward thinking and placemaking at its heart, those engaged in the built environment have the opportunity to bring about positive and lasting change for our homes, workplaces and public spaces.
*Lindsay Castellana is managing director of Property PR at Four Communications