We are witnessing changes in the ways we use our cities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The liveability of our local neighbourhoods has never been more important.
Right now, we are working together to flatten the curve by staying home to control the spread of COVID-19 and reduce demand on health services. This means spending a lot more time at home and in our local neighbourhoods. We are all finding out about the strengths and weaknesses in the liveability of our neighbourhoods.
This experience can teach us some lessons about how to live and plan our communities in the future. A liveable neighbourhood promotes good health and social cohesion, both now and after this pandemic passes.
Neighbourhoods use local open space
Anybody who has left their home in the past few weeks will have noticed more people are using local streets and public open spaces. Parks and other public spaces are more popular than ever. Some are becoming too crowded for comfort.
Accessible public space is a key ingredient of healthy and liveable places. Public green spaces provide multiple benefits for mental and physical health, urban cooling, biodiversity, air pollution and stormwater runoff as identified in a previous review for the Heart Foundation.
Access to local public open spaces has become even more important as the current need to stay home adds to the impacts of increased density in the form of smaller houses, lot sizes and apartment living. Yet not everyone has access to local parks.
Fewer cars, more cycling and walking
One of the noticeable differences in our cities right now is the reduced car traffic in typically busy neighbourhoods where more people (including children) are out on bicycles and walking. Walkable environments with paths and cycleways are providing supportive and safe spaces for both recreational physical activity and for getting to places such as local shops and supermarkets and offices without unnecessary exposure to other people.
The benefits are greatest for people living in high-amenity walkable areas with access to such places within 800 metres. Having services and facilities close by has been shown to support walking for transport to shops and services, promote health and reduce non-communicable diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.
Better air quality in Neighbourhoods
Reduced car traffic and industrial emissions are undoubtedly improving air quality in our cities. In 2018, the World Health Organisation declared air quality was the “new smoking” as it increases respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. The transport sector also contributes about 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions .
Valuing social cohesion
Loneliness is a serious public health problem. It causes premature deaths on a scale similar to that of smoking or obesity.
Pre-pandemic lifestyles involved time-poor people travelling widely to destinations for employment, education, recreation, socialising and extracurricular activities.