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15/12/2020

Bold planning is key to preventing the rise of doughnut cities

Our commercial centres have fallen silent since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Planners must prevent this from becoming a permanent situaiton, says Andrew Woodrow

Everyone loves a visual prompt: a ‘doughnut’ city is a metropolis with a hollow centre – and this may be the future we’re facing.

Once bustling commercial cores in towns and cities across the country have become deafeningly silent since lockdowns and pandemic restrictions shifted the balance of everyday life away from offices, train stations and after-work pub trips, towards kitchen tables, online retailers and streaming services.

There is no debate over the fact that our urban centres will look very different from now on. Many office occupiers will not return in the same form, and the retail and restaurant units that supported them face a struggle to survive.

The stakes are high, with planners and designers in a prime position to define what comes next. While the future remains uncertain, there is no doubt that there will be an opportunity to regenerate and reinvigorate our cities like never before. Making them green, healthy, accessible and liveable will make them more appealing and fuel the growth necessary to stem any exodus.

“The future lies in mosaic cities, where each small section of the city includes a wide range of uses”

Glasgow is a perfect example. The city council’s ‘City Centre Living Strategy’ has set a target to double the city centre population to 40,000 people by 2035. This growth drive from the local authority, combined with countless examples of inefficiently used spaces and potentially redundant former workplaces peppering Glasgow’s centre, gives planners the freedom to be bold and imagine a new style of city living – a freedom only achievable with this sort of collaboration from local authorities.

Our doughnut dilemma stems from cities designed in rings – commercial, then residential, then green belt. But the future lies in mosaic cities, where each small section of the city includes a wide range of uses: inner-city parks bordered by residential housing and co-working spaces; high streets mixed with university accommodation, offices and private flats – all based around walking distance communities linked together with fast, reliable public transport.

Eliminating rings may also help public health, reducing cramped commutes on the underground and traffic jams of polluting cars as green streets of walkers and cyclists become the new arteries of city life.

People still want convenient amenities, thriving neighbour-hoods and proximity to friends. The demand for liveable, greener city centres is high, and we must have courage if we are to meet it.

Andrew Woodrow is a planning associate in the Glasgow office of Barton Willmore

Image credit | iStock

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