What are the implications of Covid 19 on the Urban Realm with regard to Tactical Urbanism – by Lois Lawn

August 14, 2020

Long before Covid-19, the term Tactical Urbanism has been used to implement citizen-led short term action to bring about long term changes. Predominantly to the streets in neighbourhoods, to encourage sustainable modes of movement and create more people-friendly cities.

Also known as DIY Urbanism or Planning By Doing, Tactical Urbanism can be organised by communities, Local Authorities and/or organisations seeking change. These short-term, low cost and scalable interventions are meant to bring about long term change.

Figure 1: http://tacticalurbanismguide.com/about/

In 2018, My Journey, Sustrans and University of Southampton teamed up in a neighbourhood in Southampton as part of the EU Metamorphosis Project to create a temporary road closure to a certain road outside of a primary school. Tactical urbanism at work.  Street furniture, temporary seating and planting were also trailed. Before the trial ended Sustrans ran a survey of local people. It revealed that 95% of parents and residents would like to see the measures made permanent and 72% felt they had made the streets a lot more child friendly (https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/news/2019/november/sharing-knowledge-on-child-friendly-streets).

 Figure 2. http://www.metamorphosis-project.eu/case-studies/trial-road-closure-valentine-primary-school-southampton


Fast forward to July 2020 and our schools and streets have looked very different over the last six months. In March 2020 the UK entered an unprecedented lockdown due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Schools temporarily closed to all but key worker children, one trip to the shops per week was encouraged with one daily outing for exercise, with members of your household only.

We’ve had to adapt to using the urban realm in a new way, initially being allowed to exercise once a day, and with 1-2m social distancing measures, with the addition of wearing masks in shops and on public transport. Negotiating the public realm as a pedestrian (in my humble opinion) hasn’t been relaxing or enjoyable in this pandemic, however it has been necessary. I have purchased my first bicycle (as an adult) in lockdown with the quieter streets, it has been a great time to get on the roads and build confidence, and some of that has come from tactical urbanism initiatives in the city I live in.

So, how does Covid-19 and tactical urbanism impact us as Urban Designers and Architects? Does it change the way we use and design spaces and places as Masterplanners?

One of the main changes as Architects and Urban Designers from Covid times is how we interact with the public when in Consultation. Unable to meet in large gatherings inside buildings to discuss proposed plans. Instead we have hosted online consultations with Local Authorities and Stake Holders. A potential change to home design is the need to cater for home working and the possible use of hot desking in local centres or the different use of community centres in neighbourhoods and the impact on the high street.

Making Better Places

Here at ADAM Architecture, we have always prided ourselves on Making Better Places (2019). We create places and spaces that people want to inhabit, good quality public and private spaces for people to enjoy.

Walkable neighbourhoods; prioritising pedestrian and cycle routes; reducing the visual impact of cars on residential streets; reducing the widths of roads to reduce vehicular speed; the sense of place from the historic urban grain; a diverse and high quality palette of local materials, the generous amount of public open space and beautiful landscaping are some (of the many) key components to people friendly urbanism, with a hope that in our schemes tactical urbanism will not be required as schemes are already people centric.

Figure 3: Images from 'Making Better Places: The ADAM Architecture experience of housebuilding and masterplanning', published 2019

However, we can always do more, creating people-friendly spaces, adapting, regenerating existing neighbourhoods, is key to creating better places in our cities and towns. With the risk of possible future pandemics, and the ever increasing threat of global warming, the need for thinking about where we live and how we live, has come to the forefront of our minds individually and corporately as a nation.

The materials we use to build, the local craftsmanship that is to be retained, the survival of the high street, the local centre provision, how far we travel and by what mode, the use of recycled materials and reducing land-fill all have implications on how we design in the future.

By Lois Lawn