Different views about the future of urban life
The changing use of car-dominated public spaces is only one, though the most visible, of the consequences of the pandemic. In a broader sense, the non-spatial interventions – the housing, homelessness, food, etc related urgency measures – are also still being debated. The question remains: to what extent can cities defend these in the longer term?
It is clear that the emergency measures implemented were not (or could not be) decided in the normal way, based on broad participation processes. Even so, progressive city leaders consider the new situation to be an opportunity to achieve changes that were unthinkable before the pandemic.
In Paris, as part of her successful reelection campaign, Mayor Anne Hidalgo rolled out ambitious plans to make city life more local and slow-paced. Paris also introduced new bike schemes and reclaimed streets to allow for people to move around without crowding. The “15 minute city” idea is also being further developed, which assumes that skilled workers will go to the office only twice per week, or a few days per month. The idea is that with less traffic and pollution, cities can actually become even more attractive. Furthermore, the cheaper rents for office space can attract new startups and other types of users.
Barcelona aims to assert the “digital sovereignty” of its citizens by emphasising civic participation, social impact and public return. Decidim, an online platform, is of central importance, enabling citizens to participate in decision-making. The data of the city remains the property of the citizens themselves, while opening up the civic data sets helps to stimulate local businesses and civic initiatives.
In Budapest, the local government aimed to open several vacant properties to host homeless people, including even some properties within the city hall – this has been, however, prohibited by the representative of the central government.
In UK cities and in many other European cities, street homelessness virtually disappeared with the opening of new sheltering places, even hotel rooms, for them.