Urban form and travel to completely change after COVID-19

Central business districts will decline while larger apartments will be in demand as more firms consider making employees work-from-home, a new study says

By Sayan Roy
Published: Wednesday 08 July 2020
One of the drastic blows of this pandemic shall be the ending of the inner city or central business district culture, the study says. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has caused big disruption in the way people live and move in cities. Partial or full lockdowns have completely changed the activity pattern and the way cities function, along with shutting down of their businesses and economies.

These changes, that seem temporary and transitory, are expected to have a far-reaching impact. People will adopt and adapt to the new changes and transform lifestyle in the new normal.

This has been underlined in a newly released study by GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale), conducted along with the Cities Forum, CEPT Research and Development Foundation and Ideal Management Consultant.

This study has evaluated the impact of COVID-19 on the form of cities and mobility. The survey-based approach has captured the thoughts of global experts, policy makers, practitioners and business leaders on the nature and magnitude of the disruption.

Drastic change in working pattern

An overwhelming majority of respondents, approximately 74 per cent, have predicted that this crisis will completely transform our daily life as people will adopt and sustain some of their changing lifestyle forever. It may sound too early to predict in such a short duration of time. But we have already started seeing some of this right away.

Presently, many multi-national companies are evaluating the possibilities of making work-from-home a permanent move instead of a forced measure to tackle the pandemic. One of India’s IT giants, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has already talked of allowing 75 per cent employees to work-from-home by 2025.

Laghu Parashar, a senior transport advisor from GIZ and one of the co-authors of the global study report, stressed upon the fact that the pandemic had shown that people can be equally productive (particularly, in case of tertiary sector or service industry) without going to office. This, in turn, has a tremendous potential to transform the entire travel pattern in a city.

Eighty-nine per cent of sector experts strongly endorsed that a work-from-home culture will have a greater acceptance in the coming future and companies will adopt this new work culture. This cultural shift in the work place shall have broader consequence on cities in terms of travel pattern, shifting of activity centres, infrastructure creation, etc.

Change in urban form

The study reveals that one of the drastic blows of this pandemic shall be the ending of the inner city or central business district culture (CBD). Currently, most city forms have a dense central business district approach, with concentration of office spaces.

Peak travel flows during the day are oriented towards these CBDs. But a strong 81 per cent respondents feel that in the future, companies will have less office spaces due to growing work-from-home activities.

It will lead to reduced demand for office spaces and travel. This is supported by 62 per cent respondents. This will have implications for commercial real estate and office space in the post-COVID era.

Clamour for bigger homes

About 50 per cent participants feel that the demand for larger apartments will increase at the same time, as people will need more space to carry out their work at home. All of this will directly impact the travel pattern and travel destinations of the city.

More than 90 per cent respondents believe that cities should strengthen their digital infrastructure and connectivity to meet the future demand of remote working.

Impact on public transport

Due to the fear of the pandemic and physical distancing norms, public transport services will take time, approximately two years, to bounce back to their previous level. However, in the absence of public transport demand, electric vehicles like e-scooters, walking and cycling trips are going to increase substantially.

Almost 89 per cent respondents feel that looking at future mobility need, cities should invest more on developing walking and cycling infrastructures; followed by public transport and electric mobility. Personal transport modes should get less investment as well as less space on the road.

Need for compact and healthy cities

This new study has also highlighted the need for adopting decentralised, mixed-use planning techniques as well as city-level disaster management plans with greater emphasis on upgradation of public health infrastructure, supported by high-level technology and information technology.

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