It is pretty mad to have a home, leave it empty all day, squeeze yourself into the city in a polluting tin box of one kind or another. All at the same time. That way madness lay.
One of your editors recently ‘bumped into’ the CEO of one of London’s leading shared-workspace providers in the empty streets of a locked-down leafy suburb. Of course, we actually stood two metres apart admiring his motorbike (he gave up public transport a while back).
“Whether we’ll have the same business after this, we just don’t know,” was his response to the sort of questions we’ve all been asked recently. “Everybody’s gone home. We don’t know if they’ll come back. Even if they do, it will be a different business.”
Some people believe in the resurrection of normal demand for offices, and other forms of space we do stuff in. A lot of us have familiarised ourselves with ways of not needing to go near the office, possibly ever again, usually involving improved technology that now makes all sorts of things achievable at home.
Lockdown has transformed how we use our environment in all sorts of ways. The experience offers profound lessons for Planning, with a capital ‘P’. We don’t need to commute so much. We can do it at different hours. We don’t need so much office space shoehorned into the city centre. We don’t need traditional High Streets. And if we could self-test remotely for Coronavirus and its anti-bodies, and treat ourselves using new medical technology, or phone diagnosis, we might not need traditional forms of medical infrastructure either.
The list goes on. Teachers have been preparing online lessons for students at home – less commuting, fewer cars, less rigid school space required, perhaps? Service industry workers had already been vacating offices and migrating at least part-time to either a room in their home, or the local coffee shop.
Giant robotically-operated sheds on the outskirts orchestrate our online purchases, then deliver them to a growing swarm of inner-city ‘last-mile’ depots, perhaps for delivery by automated electric vehicles that don’t, or won’t soon, need a driver.
Planning has to manage this evolution – which now has a capital ‘R’ in front of it. And to get in front of that revolution, planning has got to get back into the visioning game. We need to be ‘gaming’ the scenarios that have been playing out in the time of Coronavirus as indicators of what will happen, what is happening, to the ways we use our villages, towns and cities. How we service and inhabit them. How we enable the opportunities they will continue to offer and how we avoid the negative things they have generated, using technology to do that.
When you think about it, as we’ve been forced to, it is pretty mad to have a home, leave it empty all day, squeeze yourself into the city in a polluting tin box of one kind or another. All at the same time. That way madness lay.
A form of planning, not just development control, is essential for the time that will come after Lockdown and C-19. One that is national, regional and local and is led by much stronger visioning. Lack of vision got us into this mess.
Leader from Planning in London issue 113 April 2020