The last 18 months have had an unprecedented impact on the way we go about our day to day lives. The biggest shock now, however, is perhaps that the fortune tellers predicting the “death of the city” were pretty far from the mark. It seems that central London is seeing a return to at least some of its pre-Covid habits – with tubes getting back to 70% of their pre-pandemic ridership and residential rental prices in prime London locations seeing healthy growth in the last quarter.
There can be no doubt, however, that home working provides a freedom to people that five days in the office will never offer – with numerous studies showing employees are determined to embrace a hybrid of office and home working on a long-term basis. While offices are reopening, employers are embracing the lower costs of running much reduced office capacities and we are seeing the transition of offices from a “desk and chain” to becoming hubs for more specific tasks and interactions on only limited days, with home-working taking place for the remainder of the week. Many property professionals see these changes as here to stay and predict they will drive market movement for years to come.
In placemaking terms, it seems the 20th Century divide between residential and office districts are blurring, with the demand placed on the spaces we live in resulting in unique opportunities for our built environment to innovate and enhance. Moving forward, it seems increasingly likely that Britain’s cities will embrace the idea of “legacy developments” to build community-centric and sustainable living areas in order to retain urban footfall, combining spaces for living, working and leisure.
The sector, however, must be wary of past mistakes. Covid-19 has arguably seen the greatest change in working habits since the post-war boom in Britain, but in a fraction of the time. Britain’s “New Towns” built from the green fields of the 1940s and 1960s were praised as the solution to the booming post-war population spilling from congested metropolitan areas. However, new town developments were often cheap, built quickly and designed exclusively around the motor car. The result was high density, poor-quality housing with limited and unsustainable retail facilities, separated from other communities by major roadways. In many cases, the construction of new towns was tainted by a desire to create what planners thought people should want in a futuristic new town, rather than considering the real needs of the public.