CTBUH CEO Among Experts Engaged in RICS Forum on the Urban Legacy of Covid-19

The utilization of public space will be markedly different in the aftermath of the current pandemic.
The utilization of public space will be markedly different in the aftermath of the current pandemic.
01 May 2020, London, United Kingdom

This article is excerpted from the RICS World Built Environment Forum, which posed three questions on the urban legacy of Covid 19 to WBEF members last month. The CTBUH CEO, Antony Wood, was among those members, and his response is below. 

We asked you: what will be the urban legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Last month, our columnist Greg Clark posed three questions on the urban legacy of Covid-19. WBEF community members were invited to submit their thoughts.

What will be the key urban-innovations that occur in and through our cities as a result of Covid-19? Put another way, what will be the urban legacy of this crisis?

“In the wake of COVID-19, I think cities will have to rethink how they manage urban mobility. At least in the short-term, people with means will likely forgo public transit in favour of transportation that involves less risk of exposure. If cities want to stay dense, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable, it will be important to create more mobility alternatives for all their citizens.”

- Billy Grayson, Executive Director, ULI Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance

“When the confinement begins to ease, there will probably be an increase of use of bicycles and electric scooters to avoid crowded public transport, which should encourage cities to increase the creation of safe bike/scooter paths throughout the cities.” 

- Dr Leyre Echevarria Icaza, Head of Occupier Project Management, CBRE España

“In California, now that we can see the possibilities of open quiet public roadways, there is already a large conversation about retaking streets for non-car users.”

- Ann Gray, Principal, GRAY Real Estate Advisors

“Decarbonisation of buildings and transport are of course essential steps to slowing climate change and will result in great improvements to air quality and noise pollution levels. During the pandemic, people in cities have seen what blue skies and clean air are like and will not want to go back to the bad old days.”

- Professor Philip Steadman, Emeritus Professor of Urban Studies and Built Form Studies – The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London

“Covid-19 has exposed countries whose economies rely largely on the service sector. The products we have needed have been critically required in cities, where viral transmission is most potent. The return of light industry and technical manufacture to cities will have multiple benefits: bringing high quality employment, reducing travel, increasing resilience and enabling cities to diversify their economies.”

- Professor Richard Templer, Director of Innovation – The Grantham Institute, Imperial College London

"The outbreak has showed that our cities are heavily dependent on service employees. Ironically, this dependence will encourage the innovation sector to develop new solutions that automate and replace many urban service jobs. In turn, access to some of the services that make cities so great will no longer require one to live in proximity to service employees. As a result, many knowledge workers might choose to move out of the city. Most of them will not migrate to a non-urban environment but instead choose smaller cities and towns that have more people like them, and fewer people employed in service industries. From a policy perspective, this is not a desirable outcome."

- Dror Poleg, Author, Rethinking Real Estate, and Co-Chair ULI Tech & Innovation Council in New York

“Before the virus, video appointments made up only 1 percent of the 340 million annual visits to primary care doctors and nurses across the UK’s National Health Service. Telemedicine companies such as Push Doctor and Docly have reported 70 percent and 100 percent week-on-week demand increases respectively since the pandemic emerged.”

- Hannah Griffiths, Senior Consultant – Smart Cities, Arup

“There will be calls to further isolate and separate people. But there may also be calls to provide “separate but equal” accommodations for groups of people with varying health susceptibilities; one way of doing this would be to replicate the services commonly available at ground level, at height – using tall buildings’ hermetic qualities as a means of proactively keeping groups isolated.”

- Antony Wood, Chief Executive Officer, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

What are the likely implications of Covid-19 for public space in our cities?

“The sense of ‘personal space’ has increased. Designs will need to ensure that people don’t crowd together. Architects and designers are looking at creating comfortable social barriers that do not get in the way of community interaction. Besides physical health, we’re also studying how the design of interior and exterior environments can improve mental health, looking at all elements of design from materials and lighting to distancing and interaction with people and objects.”

- Wong Heang Fine, Group Chief Executive Officer, Surbana Jurong

“Public spaces will be more thoughtfully set out, with more space and fewer facilities, avoiding the crowding of facilities into small areas. Functions of facilities and new materials will also be at the forefront. A new industry around guidelines for better designed open spaces will be spawned. But I do think that humans have short memories – and in a decade or less people could have a dim memory of the drama of the last few months – we need to act fast to make change.”

- Anne Kerr, Managing Director – Greater China and Global Head of Cities, Mott MacDonald

“The concept of public space is surely changing. I would not disqualify the concept of e-citizenship. We have witnessed in these weeks a strong sense of community – companies, local authorities and citizens coming together to mend vulnerabilities or shortcomings within the system, and technology has been a great ally. This is proof of a solid public space: even if it takes place for the most part online, its effects are offline.”

- Bianca Muntean, Manager, Transilvania IT Cluster and EU Cluster Manager of the Year 2019

“The fear of contagion can drive defensive behaviour as well as discrimination. In the UK, we have seen the rapid normalisation of heavy security presences in our public spaces. Here also, statistics point to a rise in hate crimes, as the mistaken assumption of a link between disease and ethnicity is rehashed. This is sadly playing out in our public spaces. Compounding this, people may choose to have social gatherings in their home rather than in public places. This leaves less opportunity to interact with people different from yourself, further exacerbating online bubbles and duplicating them offline.” 

- Meg Bartholomew, Head of Impact Valuation and Associate Principal, Era Co

"Public spaces will be more thoughtfully set out, with more space and fewer facilities, avoiding the crowding of facilities into small areas." Anne Kerr

“During the pandemic, the struggle to access public space has been felt by many in densely populated urban areas. Therefore, we see the provision of more distributed and decentralised ‘pockets’ of public space being prioritised. As the number of cars on the roads has decreased significantly during this pandemic, there are opportunities to introduce flexible streetscapes into the urban form. This would allow roads to transition to play areas for children or temporary parks during times of low demand.”

- Hannah Griffiths

“Many cities, from Paris to Lima, are taking the opportunity to jump start programmes that re-allocate public space for cycling and walking, and create low traffic neighbourhoods. If continued, this will not only support active and sustainable travel as we transition out of lockdown but will provide new space for community inclusion. Smart Road User Charging is also something that cities should be looking at. Many public transport authorities will be facing a significant financial hole. Charging motor vehicle trips by a variety of metrics such as distance, time of day or type of vehicle ensures that the most polluting journeys are discouraged and provides a new source of funding.”

- Fran Graham, Campaigns Coordinator, London Cycling Campaign

“Much of our public space is legacy space. You can’t simply enlarge an existing underground station, or the tunnels and bridges along transport routes. High urban land prices will continue to drive high-rise, high-density development. It therefore seems more likely that there will be behavioural changes and small scale, easily affordable innovation with wider benefits – at least initially. The idea of shared autonomous vehicles suddenly seems less attractive.”

- John Kraus, Head of Sustainable Urbanisation, RICS 

“Many recent high-rise and urban projects have been predicated on the idea of deeper societal integration, more social mixing, and more “collisions” between people. The new requirements for social separation would, on the surface, seem to obviate this entirely. And yet it is also possible that the introduction of horizontal connectivity at height, augmented by “smart” building technology and compartmentalized transportation services, could support the requirements for “social distancing”. The outbreak has altered hospital operations – not as radically as urban life in general – and much can be learned from how these institutions have responded spatially.”

- Antony Wood, CEO, CTBUH

“No one knows for sure what the ‘new normal’ will really look like, but the appetite for large gatherings in crowded public spaces will not be as high as it was prior to the pandemic for quite some time. Nonetheless, during the crisis, public parks have become the new urban centres – at least in those places where they have remained open. Green spaces will continue to act as the focal point for people’s daily or weekly interaction with the outside world.”

- Tim Smith, Director, World Built Environment Forum

“In the wake of COVID-19, public spaces will be even more important, as people stuck in their houses for months will be hungry for ways to re-engage

safely with fellow citizens. At the same time, many of these public spaces will either need to be managed differently or redesigned to allow people to enjoy them safely. Figuring out ways to program public spaces for social distancing will be a major challenge for cities, but an important one to tackle in the months ahead.”

- Billy Grayson

How will Covid-19 shape the global pattern of investment flows in to and out of cities in the longer term? Will cities that emerge stronger from the crisis be rewarded? And will those that are hardest hit be penalised?

“It’s a really interesting question. An understandable gut reaction is that the focus on urban centres might dissipate – even in the better performing cities – as the demise of physical retail and a reduced office footprint reduces footfall. However I rather sense that the outcome, and the flow of investment, will in part depend on how adept the governance of cities is in helping to manage the transformation of centres that were built for 20th century life into something that more reflects the new world. This will inevitably involve some level of repurposing and need to reflect potential issues around density to build resilience against future pandemics.”

- Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist, RICS

“‘Destination’ centres will continue to be strong. Investors are generally pretty conservative and not risk takers – so I have a feeling that investment will flow towards cities with a history of success, rather than a history of innovation.”

- Sarah Lewis-Briggs, Portfolio Surveyor (North), English Heritage

“Investors don’t always want to reduce risk, as it can be associated with higher returns, but they do want to understand it. They might favour locations where risk is transparent and where city authorities have demonstrated strong disaster management capabilities. We have seen a growth in disclosures on climate-related financial risk. Might we see the emergence of pandemic-related risk disclosures?”  

- John Kraus

“Cities that are able to strike a balance between density and sustainability are likely to see their relevance growing. This is where people want to live, work and play and, as a consequence, this is where capital wants to be allocated. Investors will not focus on real estate alone anymore, but will likely consider other aspects – such as liveability.”

- Dr Leyre Echevarria Icaza

“Businesses that I am in contact with are acutely aware that Covid-19, as dreadful as its direct impacts have been, is a sobering warning about what will happen if they do not take climate change seriously. Robustness and resilience, science-based planning, preparedness and mitigation are all aspects of the same imperative for investors and leading cities. Investment and political capital can no longer be deployed for short term expediency. Nature demands that we think longer term.”

- Richard Templer

“Those cities and countries that are most able to get back to or to continue working and already had a strong economic base – Shanghai, South Korea and New Zealand spring to mind – are going to be the ones where the money will be deployed. Countries such as Spain and Italy which have had longer lock-downs and had fairly fragile economies beforehand will suffer the greatest decline in investment. The UK could suffer a double whammy with a longer lock-down and Brexit on the horizon.”

- Ann Bentley, Global Board Director, Rider Levett Bucknall

“This opinion is not backed by any data, so call it a hunch: I think the cities that have been hardest hit may be rewarded. New York City, as hard hit as it has been, in the long term can muster the political will and access to resources to rectify what it lacks in its response mechanisms – it will not be penalized. And investment flows to smaller cities may also increase for a couple of reasons: opportunity for greater returns from distressed properties; and demand for housing and jobs from those retreating from heavily impacted large urban centres.”

- Ann Gray

To see the original story, go to Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Become a Member

Gain access to the latest concepts, developments, and technical information on tall buildings and sustainable urban development.

Join CTBUH Now!