he COVID-19 lockdown saw the emergence of a new normal for many – working from home and no longer commuting to work, it has demonstrated that many businesses can fully function remotely and many will have welcomed the time they have personally gained from no longer having to travel on a daily basis.
However, spending more time rooted in one place is likely to have increased overall levels of depression, anxiety and stress, with those in the poorest living conditions – cramped or overcrowded homes, poor natural light, lack of access to an outside space – among the most negatively affected.
Furthermore, feelings of isolation have significantly increased as our once normal human interactions, gained from travelling to a place of work or socialising with friends and family, have been put on hold. According to the Mental Health Foundation, around one in four (24%) had feelings of loneliness when asked at the height of lockdown in April 2020, compared to just one in ten (10%) before lockdown.
As chair of the APPG on Building Communities, I have explored these issues with colleagues from across the Palace of Westminster. Although the research was undertaken before the emergence of coronavirus, our recent report Productive Placemaking, has demonstrated a link between place, planning and increased productivity. It has also confirmed that – unsurprisingly – happier and healthier places are more productive.
Spending large amounts of time at home will have changed many people’s expectations of their houses and surroundings, and has reinforced the importance in developing new approaches to delivering good design and building communities.
To help us meet the challenges of this ‘new normal’, we will need to push developers and planners to make better use of space – we need bike racks, children’s playgrounds, nature trails, outdoor gyms, community allotments, and more.
To combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, we will need to work harder to make normal activities pleasurable, safe and healthy and, where possible, re-think our development models to ensure that people are able to go shopping, spend time in nature or to see a doctor within a 10-15 minute walk from home.
Our report has started a conversation on what makes places productive and suggested a number of recommendations, including putting placemaking at the heart of the NPPF. We will continue our work as we explore how we can deliver productive, flexible and resilient post-COVID communities in the years and decades to come.
Bob Blackman MP is chair of the APPG on Building Communities. Download Productive Placemaking below.