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How can we build a shared recovery?
14 October 2020
The spread of COVID-19 has dramatically changed how communities live, travel and behave. From breaking old certainties to the acceleration of new trends, it has forced us to adapt to new ways of living.
While some of the longer-term effects may take years to be fully understood, there is a pressing need for action to rebuild our economy and tackle wider challenges. From addressing the housing crisis to tackling digital inequality, we must work to understand the new landscape and the opportunities it could bring. Most importantly, we have the chance to radically re-think how we view our communities and live our lives.
Building Stronger, Wealthier Communities
To better understand what people see as priorities for recovery, we gathered the views of more than 1,700 people working across local government, transport, education and health, as well as the general public in both the UK and Ireland.
A clear picture began to emerge. More than 60% of respondents felt than Community Wealth Building would be key to rejuvenation. In this respect, we see that putting stronger, wealthier communities at the heart of any recovery plan will be integral to its long-term success.
This is the central premise of our latest report, entitled ‘Our Shared Recovery’, and is something we’ve seen played out in the capital time and time again. From the London Borough of Camden’s Community Investment Programme, which prioritises new community assets such as affordable housing and schools, to our work with Westminster City Council to take on board the views of residents and businesses for the regeneration of Church Street, the needs and wants of local people must be at the forefront of any successful renewal plan.
Our research also revealed a growing interest in 15-minute communities. Almost all the local government professionals we interviewed saw remodelling communities along 15-minute principles as a likely outcome of the pandemic, and places such as the Better Bankside Business Improvement District, or low-traffic neighbourhoods like Waltham Forest, offer illustrative examples of success.
While there have been concerns that this trend could risk a ‘hollowing-out’ of central areas, our view is that this would be off-set by a number of factors. As well as rebalancing towards city centre living and leisure, we are seeing many industries showing a renewed interest in city centres. Often as part of ‘re-shoring’, we are seeing sectors including pharmaceuticals, life sciences, and FinTech all looking to bring core activity back into the centre of cities where they can better agglomerate with investors and academic institutions.
Transport, Mobility and Connectivity
It is clear there is a real appetite for better-connected, self-sufficient urban centres, and transport is a major consideration. Our polling showed that investment in green infrastructure and active travel to tackle climate change ranked amongst the top three priorities for local spending overall, and in London was seen as the top priority by the public.
However, as we have seen with the significant remodelling plans around Oxford Street to reduce congestion and support cycling and pedestrianisation, active travel measures can only work where they have community buy-in. In this respect, while there are many different levers that contribute to building stronger, wealthier communities, it needs to be up to local authorities to determine which levers, in which combination, will work for their local communities.
In putting the need to build stronger communities at the heart of recovery, there are clear opportunities that ensure the benefits extend well beyond simply bringing GDP back to pre-pandemic levels, but also embed sustainable long-lasting change in our towns and cities, and for the people who live within them. But it is only through close co-operation and collaboration from everyone – public sector, private sector and communities themselves – that an inclusive, green, healthy and deliverable recovery can be achieved. This is how we can build stronger, wealthier communities for all.
To read more about our recommendations for building stronger, wealthier communities, Our Shared Recovery is available for download now. We’d be interested to hear your views.
London First are pleased that Arcadis will be joining us at the London Infrastructure Summit this month.
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