With COVID-19 lockdown entering its fifth week, people are confined to their local communities like never before. Travel has been cut down to the absolute minimum, and as a result, the majority are spending all of their time at home. This looks to be influencing a change in mentality, as the public’s needs and wants transform with the current situation. In particular, people have had an extended period of time to reflect on their place of home, re-evaluate the infrastructure that is important to them, and consider what future development they feel their local community requires.
As millions remain at home nationwide, the importance of digital technology has grown further, with Wi-Fi currently an essential ingredient for almost all work, socialising and daily life. This online migration is likely to remain once COVID-19 has passed, with society predicted to rely on activities such as working from home and online shopping more than ever before. As such a significant societal change, this will require developers to measure the new demand for Wi-Fi and mobile networks, because spikes in usage across some areas of the UK may need fast investment into better connections.
Another impact of COVID-19 has been an influx of the visitors to parks, open spaces and the public realm in general. With only one piece of daily exercise permitted, people are valuing the opportunity to spend time outside in the surrounding area. When these restrictions are eventually lifted, the importance of these areas to local communities could change permanently; particularly in cities where residents have spent weeks restricted to their flats and apartments. Also, as awareness and commitment to the 2050 Net Zero emissions target grows, the development of parks and open spaces may become a growing focus for sustainability reasons.
Following the drastic changes to travel, the current situation may also see a shift in transport priorities. Although extensive use of local transport is not recommended, the concentration of people in urban areas will be testing local connectivity. An impact of this could be a shift in focus from national infrastructure to community transport links. This builds on Copper’s Public attitudes to transport report – which found that the public need to fully understand the benefits and societal value of local transport infrastructure – as COVID-19 is allowing people the time and opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of their transport links. This may lead to more communities requesting improved bus services, or an increase in demand for better and safer cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, as quarantine develops the public’s appreciation for daily exercise.
As the lockdown period continues, these changes in local priorities look set to develop throughout the UK. This represents both a challenge and opportunity for developers, as the shift requires comprehensive engagement to understand how local demand has changed, but offers the chance to proactively recognise and satisfy the needs of communities across the nation. Clear and open communication with the public is vital, as this will allow developers the chance to determine new local priorities, and make fully informed infrastructure investment decisions. Whether engagement is undertaken utilising digital technology such as webinars and virtual discussions, or more traditional activities like public information events are employed, it’s clear it will play a key role in post COVID-19 development.