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Planning Post-COVID : 10 Changes We Need to Make

Planning Post-COVID : 10 Changes We Need to Make

 

1. Work holistically

Planning needs to break out of silos and start to work more holistically - the world is full of experts who are paid to ignore criteria outside of their own professions, but nobody actually lives like that. Health, mobility, social relations, and economics are highly interwoven, and a critical failure in one has a knock-on effect on the rest. When we pay attention to the connections between disciplines, we can design development that is better in line with the needs of its inhabitants and more resilient in the hard times.

“The public works department will insist that new neighbourhoods be designed principally around rubbish removal which requires big roads. The parks department will push for fewer and larger facilities, since these are easier to maintain. The department of transport will build new roads to ease traffic generated by the very sprawl that they cause. Each of these approaches may seem correct in a vacuum but is wrong in a city”

- Jeff Speck’s book “Walkable City”

 

2. Stop letting past decisions design our future

Right now, there is still a “Predict and Provide” attitude to roads. We look at how many cars there are, assume growth, and build bigger roads to provide for that future traffic. This leads to more roads, bigger roads, more traffic and an unsustainable push towards severance and congestion at the local level. In short, we’re building for the future that benefits cars and nobody else. Instead of running scared of road capacity, we should adopt “Decide and Provide”. This means deciding what type of place we want to create and planning accordingly.

 

3. Diversify our perspective

The bulk of our existing highway and public realm is designed to cater to only two things: vehicle drivers and able-bodied adults. But when have you ever been a place where those were the only people around you? We need to open platforms for other voices and designers need to put themselves in the shoes of different users.

For example, Oslo has provided school children with an app to identify where walking routes to schools have issues, and began considering soft landscaping design by looking at the world from the height of the average three-year-old. Hedging has since been reduced in height to let children see traffic when crossing the road and, crucially, so that children can be seen more easily by drivers.

 

4. Make life more local

Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s 15 Minute City Plan for Paris is a bold plan which aims to enable people to access most of the things they need within 15-minutes of their home. This is re-directing emphasis on local neighbourhoods and a principle that should be adopted in many cities in the UK.

 

5. Look further ahead

We need to have consistency in policy and move away from opportunistic short-term politics. Each town or place needs to have a long-term vision and every other policy needs to work towards achieving that vision. For example, Utrecht in the Netherlands has the health of its citizens as its long-term vision and everything else (planning policy, decisions, traffic strategy etc.) hangs from that core principle.

If a local politician felt the need to “show results” by building a large new road to alleviate his constituent’s concerns about traffic congestion, that particular action would not be taken because it does not accord with the city’s long-term vision for healthy citizens.

By determining a vision, you have a clear objective to aim for; and you then engage with the public so that they also know what their city is striving for. That way they will more readily accept difficult short-term action in order to achieve their key 20-30 year objective.

 

6. Give emphasis to urban form

Urban form needs to be recognised to be as important as traffic flows in the shaping of streetscapes. We usually allow traffic to take centre stage in both our thinking and in designing our cities when other factors are actually far more important. For example, two streets which carry the same amount of traffic may actually look and feel very different, depending on their “urban form” - the buildings that line each street, the human activity that they generate and the street furniture which composes each of those streets.

Therefore, we should stop planning for cars and start planning for better places.

 

7. Set standards for connectivity

Currently, we can standardise, test, quantify and produce stats on traffic and transport capacity with relative ease, whilst mobility and connectivity are left looking woolly around the edges – subjective, theoretical, or just ‘nice to have’ rather than essentials that can be proven by assessment that’s recognised by all stakeholders.

We need to reconsider this monopoly on the numbers by setting standards in degrees of Connectivity and Greenspace provision.

 

8. Slower, not just greener.

Whilst greener travel is important, mass transit and electric vehicles still pose just as much risk to pedestrians and other vulnerable road users as fossil fuel cars. It is important; therefore, introduce a 20mph speed limit in all residential streets, especially in urban areas.

Outside of those areas, mechanisms for reducing rural road speed limits - which are often national speed limit - in the vicinity of new housing or other amenities should also be implemented as a default rather than a question to be debated through section agreements.

 

9. Stop pushing sustainability onto the side roads.

We should be more forward in taking bigger streets and promoting new treatments so that they can become more public-facing, greener and pedestrian-focused. Side streets are a quick win because they’re easier to negotiate priority away from traffic, but when green networks are only on side streets, we end up creating long-winded routes that deviate from the A-to-B people actually want to use, can be confusing to navigate, and their ability to compete with the convenience of the car gets whittled away to only a marginal benefit.

 

10. Create More Greenways

We should create a network of Greenways in order to thread together different neighbourhoods with high-quality pedestrian and cycle corridors. This may mean upgrading existing footways or rights of way to allow cycling, safeguarding land for widening footways and planning long-term for networks that encompass not just immediate developments, but settlements as a whole.

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