How Does the City of Today Compare to 2020’s City of Tomorrow?
Back in 2020, the world was managing a global pandemic. The familiar hustle and bustle that had remained constant for city living suddenly looked very different.
At that time of change, Radio 4 Sounds Rethink podcast held a discussion about the early signs of cities changing. With four expert speakers, the podcast evaluated the changes taking place, and based on this conversation, we wrote a blog that predicted what would happen to cities over the coming years.
Was the urban landscape changing for good? Did people ever want to go back to the ‘rat race’?
Would the high street survive the pandemic?
Here, we will discover how close our predictions were to what we find in the cities of today.
"Better standards of housing are required with more space per person, as well as access to private and shared outdoor space. This point should resonate strongly with developers, who may be noticing a slowing demand for urban housing, as the pandemic has prompted people to reconsider what is important to them in their accommodation."
Has the mass exodus of cities continued now that the pandemic is under control?
The World Bank says not: ‘Today, some 56% of the world’s population – 4.4 billion inhabitants – live in cities. This trend is expected to continue, with the urban population more than doubling its current size by 2050, at which point nearly 7 of 10 people will live in cities.’
However, many people living in cities do so as tenants, and what we have seen is an increase in people moving out of cities in order purchase a home.
Knight Frank recently reported that sales of homes outside London to buyers under 50 have surged from 48% in 2012 to 60% in 2022. In the Home Counties, this figure jumped from 43% to 68%, which indicates a strong trend of homeowners trading in city life for the tranquillity and fresh air of the countryside.
So, our prediction for a continued migration out of cities has certainly come true for those wishing to purchase a home.
The City Will Adapt to Attract
"If cities become more about creating experiences rather than soulless offices and empty store fronts, they may once again attract the crowds that were lost to Amazon, Deliveroo and Netflix."
Has this happened?
There were already signs of this pre-pandemic and pre-prediction, with Battersea Power Station a fine example of a vibrant and eclectic mixed-use commercial, residential and entertainment village.
The development is an iconic landmark that is evolving rapidly into a social and cultural hotspot, and won ‘Development of the Year’ at this year’s RESI Awards for what it has to offer. This could be a sign of what will be needed from new city developments, in order to attract new residents and visitors.
The Truman Neighbourhood is another example of city life adapting to become more appealing to its residents. In this city, all a resident could need is within a 15-minute journey, including open green spaces, their workplace and amenities.
As for the old high streets, there has certainly been a shift in what is on offer there. A year after writing our blog, the BBC reported a rise in empty high street stores and the work being carried out in cities to create experiences that will attract people back onto the hight street.
‘I'm taking a spin on a go-kart track with a difference. It's the old beauty hall of the Debenhams store in south-west London,’ wrote Emma Simpson.
The report goes on to say that, ‘Landsec boss Mark Allan thinks a quarter of what is currently retail space will need to be turned into something else.’
The experiences on offer in our cities are on the rise, therefore. A trend looking set to continue in a revival of the high street and city life.
Increase in Working from Home
"As more people work from home, there will be less demand for office space in cities."
Has working from home continued to be popular since the pandemic and have our cities’ office spaces shrank in response?
Finder recently revealed that 38% of Brits are now working from home, which can be broken down into two groups: the 25% who work from home only occasionally and the 13% who work from home all the time.
Finder also stated, ‘At the height of the first lockdown, our research found that 60% of the UK’s adult population was working from home some of or all the time, and 26% planned to continue after lockdown.’
This research indicates that although not everyone has chosen to continue working from home, the figure is still higher than the 26% who planned to do so.
The reason this number isn’t higher could be that employers are working hard to keep their staff in the office. A recent article by The Guardian, described the new London Headquarters of the property company CBRE as one that could be mistaken for a hotel, explaining: ‘In the post-pandemic property world, phrases such as “hotelification” and “earning the commute” have become commonplace among executives trying to lure back workers used to working from home.’
So, with the corporate world working to entice their employees back into the workplace, it might be some time before we see the demise of the formal office. However, The Guardian does warn of the rising costs of office space and predicts this will have a negative impact on the ability to retain this level of office grandeur for workers in the coming years.
Back to Nature
"Nature needs to be better integrated."
Have cities subsequently embraced nature in the way many had hoped they would?
This is not the easiest question to answer as the percentage of green spaces varies so much from city to city.
However, the creation and maintenance of green spaces within cities is very much the focus of one particular government body: Natural England.
This advisory panel make recommendations to the government and have created the Green Infrastructure Framework, a set of tools to ‘provide the blueprint for a better future’.
The aim of this framework is to provide a better quality of life for urban communities through creating more open green spaces, as well as creating climate-resilient towns and cities across England.
So, although not all cities are currently a lot greener than they were in 2020, with the distribution of funding to the most green-deprived areas allowed by Natural England, this should be something we see change over the coming years.