The COVID-19 pandemic is already having a profound altering effect on our towns and cities. The restrictions placed on business operations and social interactions have rendered places temporarily incapable of offering many of the functions, and ultimately serving the purpose, that we have erstwhile looked to them to provide. Much of the focus thus far has been on the high street, specifically retail, and the implications for places large and small the pandemic presents. However, equally as important to many places, and a by-product of the structural changes we’ve witnessed over several decades which have increased its significance, is the role of arts and culture.
Almost overnight the travel and tourism industry has gone from focusing on the problems of overtourism to undertourism, and in many cases, the real prospect of no tourism at all in 2020 due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. However, as the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) recently warns that international tourism could fall by as much as 80% in 2020 and as many countries have started to ease their strict lockdown measures, it is time to think about what we want for the future of post-pandemic tourism when we come out the other side of this crisis. By number, well over 90% of all tourism businesses are categorised as Small and Medium sized Tourism Enterprises (SMTEs), and many of these are micro-businesses employing few if any others outside of immediate family. The demise of tour operator Thomas Cook in 2019 hit many of these businesses hard. Now in 2020, tourism business have been hit by the response to COVID-19, an unprecedented global crises that has brought about travel bans, border closures, event cancellations, closure of tourist accommodation, and the grounding of flights all over the world.
Join IPM for a two-hour facilitated discussion on how places are reacting to COVID-19 around the world.
– How are city authorities and place managers around the world reacting to the pandemic? – What can we learn from the different lockdown and recovery strategies that are being adopted? – What might be the longer-term effects of COVID-19? – How do we be better prepared for tomorrow and how can we lead change?
More than six weeks have passed since WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. While we are all trying to cope with our everyday lives, some in more critical conditions than others, there are already discussions about how we shall live together “the day after” – in particular conversations about the future of public space. I would like to share some thoughts here, in the form of questions and work hypotheses, that may help us move forward with the debate. Let me start with three propositions about how to think about public space and we can take it from there:
(1) The way I understand public space here, is as space where chance encounters with the ‘unknown other’ is possible. Let me explain: You do not expect to see an uninvited stranger in your private space (and if you do, you’d be alarmed), but you take it for granted that you will bump into strangers in streets, squares, and parks – but also in pubs, shops or buses. Indeed, following Simmel, that could even be the constitutive element of urbanity. Public space, in this particular understanding, is less about property and access rights, but rather space that has the potential to confront us with people we do not know – not by design, but by chance. Today, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (it is true for other epidemics, too) it is precisely this chance encounter with the potentially contaminated other, that is perceived as a threat. And this could be a threat to urbanity.
A recent post on the IPM Blog has highlighted the importance of urban green space in the time of epidemics (see http://blog.placemanagement.org/2020/04/11/the-importance-of-urban-green-in-times-of-epidemics/#more-2509), in terms of their beneficial effects on the well-being of those city-dwellers able to access them. Indeed, in the UK, there have been media reports bemoaning the fact that so many people have sought such benefits (especially during sunny weather), that the government’s recommended social distancing protocols have not been observed because of the sheer number of people occupying these spaces. In such situations, perhaps we have to find alternative, ‘new’ greenspaces?
In my last post on this blog (see http://blog.placemanagement.org/2020/04/10/look-around-you-exploring-your-locality-during-lockdown/#more-2495), I suggested that during the current pandemic, we need to ‘look around’, and explore more extensively the locales in which we live. In doing so, I’ve certainly found new green spaces that I didn’t know existed close to where we live. More recently, in our local explorations, we’ve investigated another green space that we knew existed only a few hundred metres from our house, but had never ventured on before – namely, the local golf course.
Recently I was invited by You and Yours, BBC Radio 4’s daily consumer show, to talk about the problems facing INTU, owners of 17 shopping centres, including some of the UK’s largest malls, such as the Metrocentre and Trafford Centre. The interview took place a few days before lockdown, inside an already near deserted Trafford Centre, a mall that normally attracts over 31 million visitors a year.
INTU’s revenue decreased by £38.8 million in 2019 to £542.3 million. A reduction in rent receivable from the impact of CVAs and administrations, and increased vacancy appear to be the main drivers, leaving INTU with £4.5 billion debt. Whereas, in 2011, few questioned Capital Shopping Centres (INTU’s parent company) purchase of the Trafford Centre for £1.6b (at the time the UK’s largest ever property deal), given that by 2015 its market value had risen to £2.2b. However, according to the London Stock Exchange, by December 2019 its value had fallen to less than £1.7b.
According to sociologist Richard Sennett (1994), the architectural emblem of our times is the airport waiting lounge; we are the ultimate lonely crowd, with fragmented and fleeting relations with other strangers; lacking any enduring sense of commitment to one another. This chimes with Augé’s (1992) observation that we are witnessing the spread of what he terms ‘non-places’ across the world, such as airports and shopping malls; homogenous environments in which these lonely crowds temporarily dwell, before dispersing once again.
This idea of consumer societies being characterised by a growing individualism, with fragile and transient social bonds, has become a common trope in academic research and writing. Such sentiments are echoed in Zygmunt Bauman’s series of books exploring what he calls Liquid Modernity; societies in which “…change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty” (Bauman, 2000: viii).
Spring 2020 will be one for the history books as Covid-19 takes hold across the globe. But we need to start the thinking about what we could be facing on the other side, and take advantage of the opportunities where they exist, says placemaking consultant BEN STEPHENSON.
The rolling news cycle is both excruciating and addictive, with small, incremental developments about the spread of coronavirus available at every page-refresh. It’s exhausting and unhealthy to fixate on the immediate problem without also looking beyond, to how we plan for the recovery.
By Nikos Ntounis, Regine Sonderland Saga, Maria Loronõ-Leturiondo, Tom Hindmarch and Cathy Parker
passing day we are witnessing the unprecedented effects of COVID-19 on the
heart of our cities and towns, as the boundless pandemic is altering – and
potentially displacing – their social and economic role. In the UK, as in other
countries, the implementation of strict public health measures means that the
majority of service-based and non-food retail, hospitality and leisure business
premises remain closed to reduce social contact
(MHCLG, 2020). Footfall, a key metric in
the management of town centres and other commercial areas, has declined since
the lockdown was announced on the 23rd of March. Yesterday (31st of March)
footfall was down 81.4% compared to the same period last year (Springboard, 2020).
The relatively short period of disruption has already triggered the
first wave of store closures (Laura Ashley, BrightHouse, Carluccio’s), impacting
first on the most vulnerable businesses, whose position was fragile even before
the scale of the pandemic and the unprecedented public health response will
mean much more disturbance is yet to come.
Macroeconomic estimates suggest that the economic shock of COVID-19 will
be around 10% of global GDP. This is five times more than the credit and
liquidity problems that caused the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 (Milne,
2020). A massive number of bankruptcies will likely follow, which will put at
risk many jobs and have a significant impact on the attractiveness of many of
our towns and cities. Not only will their offer be reduced as less businesses
come back to our town centres, post-COVID-19 – but there may be less demand for
these businesses in the future. Prolonged lockdown can fundamentally change
consumer behaviour, as people become dependent on having products delivered to
their home. A survey by analyst Retail Economics of 2,000 consumers, quoted in
The Guardian, found that two-thirds of shoppers said they had switched to purchasing
products online that they have always previously purchased in-store (Inman,
2020). But the increasingly multifunctional town/city is not only at risk of
being obsolescent to shoppers. People used to exercise in their front room, may
not go back to the gym; employees who like working from home may not return to
the office; friends accustomed to socialising online may no longer pop down the
Last week I wrote a relatively damning piece praising
the initiatives to help stem the spread of COVID-19 that had been taken by the
central Greek government, and castigating the lack of leadership evident at a
local level across the three Municipalities responsible for the Ionian island
of Corfu. There have been a number of developments since then that have
highlighted not only how local leadership is vital at times of crisis to gather
support from the local population for any crisis response measures, but also
that grassroots initiatives must be developed in a coordinated manner.
20th March 2002
My last blog post on “The
need for local place leadership in times of crisis”
appeared on the IPM website and a range of social media on Corfu. This received
comments from local Corfiots such as: “The local council’s
response has been pitiful. There still seems to be a sense that this will all
blow over pretty soon (if only)”.