For centuries outbreaks of deadly diseases have had a significant bearing on the way in which we live, with our quest for sanitisation influencing everything from the introduction of sewers to parks.
Yet while it’s less than three months since Australia’s coronavirus journey even got underway, urban planners are already considering how the worldwide pandemic will impact the future design of the places we work and unwind.
To this end, a number of Australian health and transport experts have signed an open letter calling for local government leaders to follow in the footsteps of cities overseas by urgently rolling out social distancing infrastructure to help reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These include measures such as reduced speed limits, widened footpaths, emergency cycle lanes and closing some streets to cars to ensure that “safe physical activity and social distancing” can occur on streets both now and when the economy is reopened.
But while these measures may alleviate short term issues, what, if any, changes in our built environment are we likely to see in the longer term?
In an interview with the Melbourne Age, Associate Professor Paul Osmond – a lecturer on built environment at the University of NSW – claimed Australian’s love affair with nature had blossomed during this period largely because the ban on sporting activities and closure of gyms had resulted in people flocking to parks to exercise.
As a result, in the future there is likely to be more of a demand on living architecture, such as green roofs and walls, Osmond said.
Quoted in the same newspaper Professor Billie Giles-Corti, the director of the Healthy Liveable Cities Group at RMIT, suggested that a conversation would need to be had about strata guidelines that would emphasise the importance of balconies and places for children to play.
“Tiny box apartments in the city are not the answer to the way people should be living,” she argued.
On the other hand, Giles-Corti also told the newspaper that low-density living was not sustainable and could lead to other problems such as traffic congestion.
“Sprawling suburbs have no amenity – people are too spread out and they can’t be provided with local services. We need density but we need to get density right. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
This thinking is in line with overseas views, where architects based offshore suggest the COVID-19 pandemic should be looked at as an opportunity to “rethink everything” including how we build cities and communities to be even more resilient, healthy, beautiful, green and creative.
In an interview with Forbes, the founder of a Toronto-based architectural firm Marianne McKenna claimed the fact that so many of the world’s populous had been stuck in small spaces indoors could lead to changes in the way people chose to live in the future.
People thrive in spaces with light, air and views and this could lead to a surge in carbon neutral strata complexes and buildings being designed, she said.
“Can we shift from trying to save the bottom line to designing buildings that are carbon neutral because they reduce energy consumption and participate in regenerating resources while offering ample space in which to live?”
Clearly thinking along similar lines, Joe Yacobellis, the director of a New York-based architecture firm said it wouldn’t just be residential spaces that would change in a post-pandemic world.
The general planning standards for the design of public space would also shift, he said, to “better reflect a new way of pursuing life that will include greater personal space”.
“For example, we may start to rethink… how people will really behave in public settings. Seating layouts will likely become much more spacious. Furthermore, design will favour touchless tech features, like we’ve seen in automated sinks in public restrooms.”