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04/06/2021

Louise Brooke-Smith: A roadmap to Utopia

Are we looking forward to a summer in the sun with friends and family, sipping sangria by the Med? Or will that be the Solent, if Europe is still a no-go zone and Covid-19 continues to pop up in flashpoints of new variants? 

Of course, we will need to make sure our phones are fully charged so we can whip out those digital ‘I’ve been jabbed’ confirmations – those magic little apps that ministers aren’t too sure they want to endorse just yet because of the unspoken fear of Big Brother keeping tabs on us. But in essence, for the luckier, slightly older members of our communities, they will be the ‘passports to normality’; our extra entrance tickets to bars, restaurants, clubs and football matches.

If the roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, June will see a semblance of life as we knew it. Instead of showing ID to buy cider from the Co-op, we will be encouraged to show waiters the necessary electronic paperwork that says: “We’re safe to spend money in your establishment”. And those eateries need our dosh.

But how many of the old stalwarts of the high street will still be there when we venture out again en masse? There are some substantial funds being spent to keep shopping centres alive and that money needs to hit home. Pop-up independents, unusual foodie offerings, craft markets and farmers’ stalls will have to see a longer future than a few months while the sun shines this summer. I’m sure some of us hope that we will simply slip back into the frenetic barrage of a Saturday afternoon in Primark. But, in reality, will a swift half in our local hostelry return as a natural activity once the novelty of meeting up with friends again wears off? 

“It's to be hoped that we will see a true shift to healthier lifestyles”

The pundits are telling us that internet shopping is here to stay and, indeed, the government’s push to make use of revised permitted development rights to ensure that every square foot of high street space is used for something – anything – means the retail offer might be constrained anyway. And that’s all regardless of the juxtaposition of shoe-box accommodation with questionable direct sunlight, emerging from a former Debenhams or John Lewis and sitting next to a late-night bar. 

It’s hard to tell whether we will just slip back into our old ways. But it would be a shame if the positive habits we’ve picked up over the past 15 months disappeared overnight. The regular exercise breaks and taking time to get some fresh air, look at the trees and find breathing space are just some activities that are now part of our daily routines. Common sense suggests they won’t vanish but, hey, when did common sense get the better of peer pressure or commercialism?

Which brings us to the ‘Where would I really like to live?’ conundrum. Should it be a small, expensive abode in a crowded metropolis where air quality is questionable, open space – if you have it – is a postage stamp at the back of the pavement and noise from the traffic is ever increasing? Or should it be the slightly less extortionately priced unit, a little farther from the centre, with room to breathe? Perhaps also offering space where you could work from home? It’s a no-brainer.

Will the end of lockdown bring us happiness and a return of life as we knew it or will it be a slide back to a dystopia? Yes, the continental holidays or long-haul ventures might be possible again with the right credentials in place. But it’s to be hoped that we will see a true shift to healthier lifestyles, more ethical and sustainable shopping and even a physical move to housing in greener locations and a less pressured commute to city centre offices. The horrors of Covid-19 will live with us for years, but the positives could help balance things out as we move through 2021 to a utopia of sorts.

Dr Louise Brooke-Smith is a development and strategic planning consultant and a built environment non-executive director

Illustration credit | Zara Picken

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