Covid 19 has created a new gold standard for housing and communities: The Space Standard.

 Avoiding a second lock-down in a house that is too small, the need for additional space for homeworking, and a strong desire for access to a garden and greenery is , according to recent reporting in the Times , driving people out of the cities and into the countryside*- with a marked increase in demand for homes in villages and market towns. 

The general consensus seems to be that this trend towards moving to the country will be last at least into the medium term, as increased levels of home working make commuting distances less of a deterrent.** 

So what does this potential exodus mean for our cities? If lockdown has shown us anything, is that people are the lifeblood of a city. Office workers and urban residents are a vital part of a city's ecosystem, and without them businesses of all shapes and sizes will struggle. If we are going to maintain this ecosystem, we need to find a way to make urban living more attractive to those who are currently looking to leave it.

How do we do this? The answer, again, comes back to space.  Space Standards have been in the news a lot recently, with the Government recently announcing that permitted development schemes will have to comply with national minimum space standards in the near future - a standard which, ironically, is not mandatory for developments that go through the traditional planning system. But simply making flats and houses in cities larger will not be enough. 

We could well need a fundamental re-think of what urban living is about.  Easy access to safe, attractive, green spaces, play areas and private outdoor amenity areas have been vital to weathering lockdowns in good shape. From my discussions with colleagues and friends during the first peak of the pandemic, the real difference between those who managed and those who really struggled was not necessarily wealth, or the type of job you had, but whether you had a garden or lived within a short walk of a park. 

Local authorities have, of late, been understandably reluctant to adopt new parks or play areas, due to the long term financial costs of having to  maintain them. However, this reduction in the adoption of such facilities, means that they remain in private hands, funded by resident's service charges and subject to rules imposed by developers and residents associations. This can result in access to the spaces being either tightly regulated or limited to those who are paying for the ongoing maintenance of the area. 

We have heard a lot in the White Paper about the need to increase the supply of housing in England, but if we are going to save our cities, we are going to need to pay more attention not just to the size and number of people's homes. We also need to focus on the quality and cohesiveness of the public realm; on integrated communities, with safe forms of public transport and access to employment. This is going to require investment by local authorities and central government, as well as from developers. It is also going to require planning. Long term, strategic planning, from well-resourced and motivated planning departments.  

If we are truly planning for the future, then revitalising our urban communities would be a very good place to start.


* yes, this is the tenuous link used to justify the picture of the Hedgehog Cake. I am very proud of the Hedgehog Cake - it was my daughter's birthday this week and I have never attempted a theme cake before.

** long commutes are more tolerable if you only have to do them once or twice a week