Back in a blissful, pre-Covid January, the idea of car-free cities was a hopeful yet distant ideal, pushed forward by the environmental agenda and Greta Thunberg’s campaign.
But with the advent of the lockdown, social-distancing, and economic collapse the tables seemed to have turned.
In preparation for the reopening of bars, restaurants, offices and retail in central London, Mayor Sadiq Khan made the decision to pedestrianise large parts of the city centre, including streets between London Bridge and Shoreditch, Euston and Waterloo, and Old Street and Holborn, which are now limited to buses, pedestrians and cyclists.
Meanwhile, sales in bikes shot up during the lockdown, with Halfords reporting a 57.1% jump in the 13 weeks to 3rd July, as people tried to avoid public transport.
Even Boris Johnson’s government has made some fairly promising commitments, announcing recently that £350 million will be made available to cut emissions in heavy industry, construction, space and transport sectors.
But with social-distancing measures and the Covid-19 economic recovery likely to take precedence in the coming months for transport, businesses and government policy, will this outward attention to eco-recovery stick?
Sadiq Khan has already admitted that the current crisis presents a significant challenge to public transport, as the need for pandemic-safe travelling has driven demand for tube and bus travel down.
Commuters who aren’t fans of pedal-power are now more likely to look at other individual methods of travelling. In recent weeks, as lockdown measures have eased, car sales have once again jumped with AutoTrader, an online car marketplace, seeing website traffic increase by 29% in June compared to the last year.
Furthermore, the mass supply of PPE to the wider public is feeding issues over waste disposal, despite the growing trend in recent years for beeswax wraps, bamboo toothbrushes, and refillable cleaning products.
Currently sustainability in the property industry is predicated on individual acts and projects led by private companies, such as Perkins and Will’s net-zero carbon strategy report, or ilke Homes’ partnership with Engie to produce the greenest social housing in the UK.
While these are fantastic initiatives from socially conscious companies, it’s not enough for us to rely on individual’s strategies and the government occasionally throwing money at the problem.
Instead of seeing this post-Covid period as a challenge, we need to seize the opportunity here for more permanent changes. The world of retail, office life, and our cities are bound to be altered substantially and as the country launches itself towards a mass recovery, it’s important that we take this chance to fast-track green policy and practices that we’ve been talking about for years.
To ensure that we don’t revert back to our old, bad habits when the dust settles, there needs to be clear planning policies and government strategies that ensure more permanent actions can be taken. And the property industry as a whole needs to commit to pushing through eco-friendly design, continue funding and partnering with public transit authorities, and encouraging sustainable construction and building operations.
Covid-19 recovery and the green agenda are not mutually exclusive issues; in fact they can be, and are, directly complimentary. It’s time to innovate, adapt, and overcome.