The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on the world in the past year, crippling lives, blighting economies, shutting down societies—and pretty much bringing normal life to a grinding halt.
It’s been a bleak time. But even out of disaster comes at least some good.
For all the turmoil the pandemic has wrought on societies around the world, the virus could ultimately lead to some significant—and positive—shifts in the way we live our lives in the future.
An urban re-think
COVID-19 has forced fundamental examinations of how we use facilities and services that we’ve long taken for granted.
Most of us want to lead a sustainable existence. We want to minimise the impact of our day-to-day activities on the world around us.
The pandemic has given us some insight into how we might do things differently—what transport we use, where we work and how our urban environments are used every day.
People all over the world have discovered the joys and benefits of walking and cycling to get where they need to go. This is a welcome development.
As these shifts in behaviour set in, inevitably the COVID-19 experience has reinforced what some had already considered when thinking about how our town and city spaces are planned and created.
Driving out the automobile
After all, for years cities have been more or less laid out with the car in mind. And yet the automobile is increasingly seen as a major problem for urban areas. In Copenhagen, for example, more than two-thirds of transport space is allocated to the car, according to The B1M, yet 90% of the city’s inhabitants do not use a car.
The idea that you don’t have to travel far in a town or city to get what you need—and that you certainly don’t need a car to do so—has taken root in the form of the 15-minute city.
The idea stemmed from Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who argued that Parisians should be able to meet their shopping, work, recreational and cultural needs within a quarter of an hour’s walk or bike ride.
In Sweden, some enlightened souls have taken this a step further and dared to re-imagine the streets we use every day in an even more daring way.
Restoring streets to the people
In 2019 ArkDes, Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design worked with Lundberg Design, a Stockholm-based design and strategy firm, to develop a form of street furniture units called Street Moves, which enables streets “to bring the environment closer to the citizens.”
Backed by Vinnova, the Swedish government’s research and development department, the kits are a nod to the ‘1-minute city’ concept, which envisages providing a range of services and amenities right on peoples’ doorstep.
Each Street Moves kit consists of an expandable wooden platform, with modular elements that can be added to it. The unit can be used as a charging station for electric cars or parking for electric scooters or as outdoor gyms and gardens.
Said Linda Kummel, head of ArkDes Think Tank: “The idea behind the kit is to give cities the possibility to use more of their public space for people, rather than cars and vehicle traffic.”
More space for everyone
Vinnova said the project was expected to be a first step in “gradually transforming and diversifying the street space over time.”
ArkDes said the concept, which has been tested in Stockholm, is also being considered for streets in Gothenburg and Helsingborg. It believes a city’s space “should not be centered around the car and the car’s accessibility; instead, municipalities can use the kits can provide more space for people.”
Daniel Byström, project manager for ‘Street Moves’ at ArkDes Think Tank said: “There is so much potential and development opportunities around what the street space can be used for.”
“For the past 60 years, it has been obvious to plan our cities based on the car, but it is time to start designing streets for more needs, such as an increased need for greenery and meeting places in the city.”
Quality of life
ArkDes’ Kummel suggests it’s about democratising the street environment: “We want people to test, feel and experiment with the kit to find what they want to do on their street.”
“Only when we actually change the street can we really improve people’s quality of life and reduce the climate impact in our increasingly dense cities,” she added.
Local people reimagining the street, renting a section of a street and furnishing the way they want, is an idea imported from San Francisco, Kummel said.
Like many such trends it could catch on—or it could be a fad.
It is certainly hoped that on the back of something as traumatic as a global pandemic it might be the thing that leads to a transformation of the urban environment we all know and—mostly—love.