By Larissa Heyns
Published 25 May 2020
We’ve reached day 60 of the lockdown in South Africa and emotions are running high. As we emerge from confinement, we’re starting to get a glimpse of what the world could look like post-Covid-19. We can expect more shocks ahead, particularly in the face of Climate Change, and we will need to build up our resilience. Despite the current uncertainty, now is the time to think about how to reshape our cities – and our connection to nature and each other.
We have seen communities come together with fervour to support those in need. Neighbours are interacting with each other, sometimes for the first time, seeing where they can help and assist. Communities are cheering for health workers and rainbows in windows are a reminder that there is hope for a better future. There has been an uptick in food seed sales and those with access to garden space have taken the time to be grateful. With the growing psychological pressures of these uncertain times, it has become clear that we need to feel connected to each other and nature to sustain our mental and physical health. Growing food, breathing fresh air and connecting with plant life and the soil can bring a sense of hope and productivity, an investment into the future.
We’re finding that the work from home model is feasible and desirable for many. This crisis will hopefully serve as a catalyst for companies to encourage a better work-life balance, reducing commuting times, congestion and the associated carbon emissions on our busy roads. Cities across the globe are pedestrianizing streets and encouraging non-motorized transport to allow some breathing room in normally heavily congested areas. We could be moving towards a model of decentralised cities, where larger cities are fragmented into a network of more environmentally sustainable and self-sustaining urban cores.
Never has the importance of green open space and green infrastructure been more apparent in our society. With restrictions on movement and with parks, beaches and nature reserves off limits, people are using streets and leftover spaces in great numbers, imagining their potential. Empty playgrounds with children standing eagerly on the boundaries remind us how essential play is for their mental and physical development.
In densely populated areas with no access to functional open space, streetscapes and greenery, the need is dire. Once again, the disparity between haves and have-nots serves as a stark reminder of what work lies ahead. It is clear that open space, parks and playgrounds must be accessible to all communities. This is an essential part of city making and it shouldn’t be seen as a nice-to-have.
It has also become clear, that at the local scale, communities are able to respond and adapt more rapidly. We need to ensure that communal spaces are designed with multi-functionality and natural systems in mind. Capturing and reusing water on site, sustainable urban drainage, indigenous planting to enhance ecology, trees, urban agriculture. All these are essential components of city making that will enhance a community’s ability to adapt. By embracing and working with nature, we can strengthen our ability to respond to future shocks as a society. So that when the next crisis strikes, we will be more prepared.