Planning for post-covid cities

Based on a content analysis of online posts, this 2020 report from the RTPI outlines people’s views on the future of high streets and town centres, focusing on the general public’s perceptions to enable more bottom-up and inclusive placemaking and urban planning. Key issues revolve around business rates, access, and goods and services offered, with little differences in views found pre-pandemic and during the Covid-19 crisis.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This 2020 report from the RTPI focuses on general public perceptions of high streets and town centres to enable more bottom-up, inclusive placemaking and urban planning in the future. Indeed, the report identifies that participation from local communities will be important in future recovery of places from the Covid-19 crisis, to ensure high streets meet the needs of its users and retain a sense of uniqueness. As the author further suggests (p.5):

As the Covid-19 crisis unfolds, built-environment professionals and place management experts have widely been invited to express their views on the impact of the pandemic on the future of towns and cities...However, the views of the public have largely remained absent from the debate... Systematic large-scale analysis of public perception regarding post covid-19 Cities remain non-existent. This is a significant absence – especially as the current crisis has further highlighted the impact of placemaking on people’s physical and mental health.

This report draws on a content analysis of nearly 4,000 online posts on the Guardian news website to capture readers’ ideas on the future of town centres and high streets, and to compare whether these views have differed over time from before the pandemic to during it. The study found no significant differences in perceptions of high streets between these time periods. The three most common issues identified were:

  1. Business rates - perceived as being too high and as a barrier to business success.
  2. Accessibility - difficulties accessing a town centre or high street a key challenge, with cycling infrastructure and car parking highlighted.
  3. Goods and services on offer - that attractive goods and services are provided by shops to residents and visitors seen as important.

It was also found that there was a common perception that the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for change by accelerating transformations that were already underway; that the high street would unlikely return to how it was before the crisis; that other European cities (especially Italian and French) are desirable in terms of accessibility, independents, and vibrancy; and that there is a desire for high streets and town centres to be transformed into community hubs.