If history does not necessarily repeat itself but possibly rhymes, are there any lessons that can be learnt for developers and landowners from early periods of crisis? My colleague, Naomi Nettleton, has written on the legal ramifications on temporary re-purposing of buildings (See here). But will Covid-19 and future pandemic planning have any impact on future property development?
The current pandemic crisis suggests that there may be a need to rethink urban space (both existing urban areas and new strategic development sites on the edges of towns and villages). With people not travelling to offices, "locked down" at home, there may be a pressure on residential developers to provide accommodation that allows for outside space and possibly configured so that working from home does not just mean sitting at the kitchen table. Transport policy that has previously been heavily focused on the car may also shift to promote greener "transport" as walking and cycling become more widespread and people get more used to the quieter roads and cleaner air.
Some of the temporary changes of use are likely to end as soon as the current crisis is over (for example the Nightingale Hospitals) but others, which may be providing new opportunities for play, improved health and sustainable transport, may continue. It is suggested in this article that previous crises brought attention to previously unattractive locations for "business as usual" developments. As Covid-19 affects the whole country (to varying degrees) and not just landmark buildings and specific areas, the pressure to adapt in uncertain times may lead responsible developers and landowners to gain a competitive advantage by promoting safe movement, green space and social distancing within developments and existing land use. With experts suggesting that pandemics may be more frequent in future, such an approach could ensure that quality of life for residents and workers are retained (and hopefully improved), whilst allowing for future crises to be properly managed.
Rather than encouraging new innovative or progressive uses of space, the deployment of mobile temporary use frequently served as a means to incentivise development by encouraging speculative private investment in previously unattractive locations. With COVID-19, temporary uses might prove to be more lasting. This is partly because the scale of the health crisis requires adaptation beyond a few landmark developments. It may also require at least some element of social distancing to be maintained for a protracted period. Safe movement in and around cities may require temporary design solutions to become more permanent, or to be deployed again if this or a similar health crisis resurfaces.