Rethinking urban density for more proximity

Rethinking urban density for more proximity

The Global pandemic caused abrupt disruption to our daily lives and forced us to rethink how we work, shop and live. 

As and when life returns to ‘normal’, which changes encouraged by this ‘unexpected’ sanitary crisis will remain and how can we rethink the ‘city’ to facilitate local services, promote urban mix and intensity, and shape a different future for our built environment.

This crisis has amplified specific changes that were already perceptible. Online grocery sites and home delivery services are thriving.

More and more residents in communal buildings have been grouping to place large orders and have pallets of products delivered.

Meanwhile, drive-throughs have flourished, especially in medium-sized cities. 

Hypermarkets seem to have done well with the development of this type of service, which allows for speed and reduced physical contact.

While open markets were forbidden or limited throughout Europe, we witnessed the development of “farmer’s drives” in parking lots, squares, or farmers’ homes.

To meet the demand for fresh local products, people, producers, farmers and breeders began grouping.

In addition to adapting to changing circumstances, there is a desire to develop sustainable mobility.

It is also necessary to take a long-term view and think in terms of spatial continuity.

For decades, we have been living in fragmented metropolitan archipelagos, where supply, living and working areas are separated, with mobilities that mainly benefit the car. 

This health crisis leads us to reflect on a return to a long-term spatial planning policy, with the relocation of particular products and services.

It naturally leads us to reflect on the need to bring some businesses and public services back into neighbourhoods at the city level. 

Should we move towards the “quarter-hour city”, where all essential services are within a fifteen-minute radius of a bicycle ride?  

We should, as long as this concept is applied in a way that opens the city to the world rather than a retreat from it.

In order to provide a range of essential services at neighbourhood level, we need to reinvent how cities are organised and, promote proximity and consistent mobility.

We must have good access by foot – or by bicycle – to urban offering, both for services and for diversified agricultural production. 

For example, a time-based dimension could be introduced into urban planning documents, preventing the construction of dwellings more than 10-15 minutes’ walk from service centres and vice versa.   

This is not so much about adapting transport and logistics, but rather optimising urban activities location.

This crisis invites us to develop a “time-based urbanism” centred on the idea of the “flexible” city, playing on energy, space and time at the same time. 

 The idea is to optimise space through versatility and modularity.

For example, a public square can be used as a sports field in the morning, a market in the afternoon and a parking lot at night.

The malleable city leads to a rethinking of urban functions and discourages the use of monofunctional buildings on the outskirts of the city.  

This time-based approach makes it possible to broaden the scope of services and encourage cities densification, preventing them from becoming scattered.

It can also reduce the number of peaks at the entrance and exit of urban areas and limit saturation by shifting working hours in the morning and evening. 

Following the example of furniture stores that offer convertible solutions for limited space, the malleable city aims to limit space consumption and promote urban mix and intensity, while facilitating access to a certain number of services, especially for the most fragile.

It can be thought of as a multi-purpose space relying on digital innovation and technology to build a new shared urban intelligence, rather than control.

This is where PropTech can play a role in fast-tracking urban design, promoting smart urban mix and flexibility. 

It is the very essence of the city and our ability to live together that will be impacted by urban planning decisions in the coming decade.

The pandemic is putting the city and urbanity to the test. This virus is anti-urban because it kills the encounter.

The unprecedented nature of the pandemic is t is forcing us to mobilise and to rethink together the city of tomorrow by relying on technologies and innovations so that cities can once again become places where people meet and exchange in person. 

 

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