Closed borders, greatly restricted local and in reality, no overseas travel and the absence of big cultural events and gatherings have given rise to a new trend in urban living that might be summarised as ‘living local’.
While a greater focus on living local might currently be partly a direct result COVID restrictions, it’s by no means a new social trend. However, there does appear to be a direct link between those times when we turn to things local and times of social upheaval.
For example, the term ‘staycations’ has fallen into much more common use recently and the idea has even become mainstream to help market local and regional travel. The term was also popular during the economic constraints of the GFC.
But the idea and term are not new, although its use always appears to be associated with times when society is grappling with some sort of social, economic or political troubles.
One of the earliest uses of the term ‘staycations’ comes from 1944, when in the midst of the Second World War the population was being asked to conserve fuel but to also consider the sacrifice of serving men and women by staying home and writing a letter to those serving their country. I make reference to this one example to introduce a wider topic of how the popularity being local, in-turn leads to the increasingly popular notion of walkable cities. An idea that now appears to be very much back on the agenda as communities adopt to the longer term impacts that COVID might influence how and where we live.
While the longer term economic repercussions of current events may well last into the next decade. We should expect to keep a very sharp focus on cities, including how they function and the costs of development to help make our communities safe, affordable and attractive places to live. And also, how infrastructure might be delivered more economically.
A lot of related policy may well focus on walkable communities, or what are also described in the most positive terms as ‘slow-cities’. Across varied urban environments regardless of location. The idea is already attracting attention from the United Kingdom to Germany and also in Sydney where the topic has also been linked to the positive environmental impacts of walkable cities.
Better Living in a Walkable Neighbourhood
Like me, you may have recently been encouraged by the positive aspects we’ve seen from spending more time at home, with more local time.
Despite social distancing or perhaps because of it, people often appear friendlier, the streets are safer and reports of a stronger sense of community are some of the aspects we also link to walkable communities. Haymarket, The Rocks, Sydney City, Surry Hills, Newtown, Paddington and Rushcutters Bay are some well documented local inner-suburban examples however, other more widely spread locations include Liverpool, Parramatta and Cronulla.
A community focused neighbourhood, is not an idea only associated with high density suburbs, the concept is equally relevant to outer suburbs where it’s not only a great time to walk, but also ride a bike. Which is a very real trend that’s seen bike sales soar.
Melbourne for example, has a long term land-use plan centred around shaping the city as a series of 20-minute neighbourhoods. However, in Melbourne’s plan, and the same would equally apply to any city, to become a 20-minute neighbourhood, two key requirements must be met.
First, local development densities need to be increased, ensuring minimum density levels of around 25-30 varied dwellings per hectare, which will better support local activity and services, with more jobs and a mix of household types, income levels and age groups. Second, local public transport services need to be improved.
What a Walkable Neighbourhood Looks Like
The promise of a walkable neighbourhood is often summarised as where everything you need on a daily basis is within a 10-20-minute walk. There’s also lots of research that links better health results, such as lower blood pressure levels and lower body mass, as well as a positive for better memory. It’s easy to remember the importance placed on exercise and mental health during lockdowns. Holding onto these ideas as a constant of urban planning looks a good idea.
Other key features of a walkable community that are gaining in popularity and are sure to continue to appeal to more buyers, regardless of location include the following pointers.
Health – in walkable communities, people significantly increase their physical activity, and from that there’s evidence of more personal happiness.
Lifestyle – living in a walkable community provides more opportunity for social interaction between residents. In almost every market where we work the desire for a more enriching community is a shared aspiration among buyers regardless of the demographics.
Transport – where possible a neighbourhood that helps reduce reliance on cars is often important with easy access to reliable public transport connections, this is also seen as more environmentally friendly.
Safety – with fewer cars and more residents out walking, it makes sense that levels of pedestrian safety will be higher and this appeals to many buyers as a direct benefit of a walkable neighbourhood. It’s a fact we’ve seen in some new estates, where areas with no through traffic have proved very popular.
Local shops – both inner city and in more suburban locations, a big lifestyle tick goes to a walkable community with easy access to local shops and cafes. Local shops or coffee shops on a high-street, or local shopping centre connect community and they are enjoying strong community support and also attracting more investment interest.
Planners at all levels of government alongside developers understand that today more than ever, homebuyers look for and appreciate the many positives that a walkable community provides, the fact that COVID-19 has refocused this may well turn out to be a long term and positive trend.