In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, communities all over the world are facing extraordinary challenges. We have been thrust into an unfamiliar world of risk and change which requires a new approach to the way we plan and develop Australian cities, regions and local centres.
The pandemic has threatened the health, wellbeing and economies of many local communities. Local governments across the country are taking action through temporary changes to streets, transport links, public open spaces and commercial areas. But if we want to make communities safer and stronger and the economy more resilient in the long term, we need to put wellbeing at the heart of our recovery plans.
Ethos Urban, an Australian based urban development consultancy and Happy City, the world’s leading urban wellbeing consultancy, have partnered to create innovative approaches to building happier, healthier communities and more resilient economies.
Ethos Urban Director Greg Vann said prioritising urban wellbeing in urban policy decisions will improve our experience of cities and help create a better normal.
“COVID-19 is a real catalyst for change in the way we approach urban planning, both city wide and at the local level. The pandemic has brought forward so many issues that provide a real circuit breaker to plan our communities differently – a new epoch based on wellbeing,” said Mr Vann.
“For example, RMIT’s Australian Urban Observatory showed only 49 per cent of Melburnians have access to large public green space in a walkable distance from their homes. This corrodes the health of people unable to access this open space at a time when they need it the most,” said Mr Vann.
“Now is the time to think globally and act locally. We need to harness approaches being applied around the world to improve the urban experience and reignite our local economies. This will speed our recovery from this recession. After all, local businesses circulate more revenue through the local economy than multinationals with 45 cents in every dollar flowing back into the local economy,” said Mr Vann.
Charles Montgomery, Founding Principal of Happy City said, there are clear benefits from putting wellbeing at the heart of urban design and planning to reshape how we experience urban life.
“We’ve all learned how difficult extended periods of lockdown can be. They ravage our local economies and our mental health, especially people who live alone, and they can be dangerous for workers who commute on transit. What if we could design communities that are more self-sufficient, enabling short, local lockdowns only when needed?” said Mr Montgomery.
“The benefits of taking a wellbeing approach to urban planning is clear. We know that people who live in walkable communities with access to local shops, services and amenities also report being more likely to know and trust their neighbours. These relationships have been shown to keep people alive in times of crisis,” said Mr Montgomery.
As we start conceptualising what post-pandemic recovery looks like, there are a myriad of international strategies that can be applied in Australia to reshape our approach to the urban environment and improve the urban experience for everyone.