There has been much-publicised doom and gloom around the face of our UK cities. While the pandemic is certainly creating hardship for almost all sectors that rely on people moving in and around bustling cities, it is also creating a huge amount of opportunity. H+K commissioned a OnePoll survey which asked around 1600 residents across our major cities of London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham, about their views on the future of the city. Arguably the people most effected believe that our cities need to and will thrive.
Cities are not just places for work, they have the things we love in them; the shopping experiences, the culture and the places of enjoyment with our friends and family. Other than crime, which unfortunately is still a concern in big urban areas, what we don’t love about our cities is the air pollution (43%), congestion (32%) and lack of green spaces (33%). However, there is also optimism that while major change may not happen in the next few years, it is believed that our cities will tackle these challenges head-on and look very different by 2050
The pandemic has certainly made it difficult for businesses operating within cities, however it has also put a spotlight and a renewed focus on improving how we move through and around them. The government’s recently announced ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution had a lot of focus in the mobility and transport sectors.
In a closed discussion with Former Transport Minister, Lord Andrew Adonis, and business leaders across the mobility sector, Lord Adonis stated that the predicted revolution in cities has been a little overstated but what is happening is the ‘radical acceleration’ of trends that were already appearing in key sectors.
The key accelerating trends in our cities fall into the following areas:
Micro and multi-modal transport
With fewer people using public transport due to health concerns but driving not always being viable, the boom that was already happening in cycling and e-scooters has exploded. E-scooters are still currently banned on roads in the UK but that hasn’t stopped the scooter companies lobbying hard for trials. It’s not to say people won’t still use public transport, but they will use it alongside these other personal modes of transport, offering the flexibility for people to break up their journey using different modes that suit them.
Online retail was already dominant and any retailer that did not have an adequate website and delivery service was being left behind long before we’d ever heard of the Coronavirus. While there will be some shrinking of shop footprints and high street rejigging, cities will still be home to iconic shopping experiences. Retailers need to rethink the in-store experience that can only happen in person. People may not buy there and then, but they will be inspired to get home and order everything online without the need for lugging heavy bags on the train.
It’s safe to say that delivery companies have almost become part of the family with them delivering all aspects of life to our doors. However, this was not a new trend created by the pandemic. Amazon was already one of the biggest companies in the world before COVID. Clever restaurants had already partnered with the many food delivery services available and retailers stepped up their game on their digital shopping experience. Those that hadn’t already joined this movement or couldn’t are the ones facing the bleakest look ahead. The delivery companies are having their time in the sun. However, with diesel delivery vans a key contributor to CO2 traffic pollution and low emission zones expanding out of city centres, there is growing pressure for them to balance the demand for fast and cheap delivery with more sustainable solutions. Technology advancements in EVs, autonomous driving and clever robotics paired with bikes, scooters and even porters on foot will transform the congestion heavy and cost-intensive last-mile delivery.
The hybrid and full electric car market grew by 26% last year in Britain. With an industry that is shrinking, this is significant growth. However, it is still only around 2% of the total cars on the road which is not enough to make the positive environmental impact that is needed. The Government’s gloves are now off with the auto industry by bringing forward the ban of petrol and diesel cars to 2030. Education and ‘nudge’ tactics have not changed behaviours enough so now it’s time to get serious and take unsustainable choices away.
The way people, goods and services move in and around our cities will not be dramatically different post the pandemic but hopefully, in the near future, it will be significantly better for people and the planet.