Economic Planning Post COVID-19

When COVID-19 entered our vocabulary earlier this year, the virus was considered to be a great leveller. We all stood an equal chance of being infected, receiving care, recovery and for some, sadly no longer being with loved ones. But in the space of a few months it has become clear that the virus discriminates.

Evidence indicates that poor households, those living in densely populated homes, those with underlying health conditions, inner cities, areas with economic deprivation, less access to green space (or even a balcony), are at least twice as likely to die than the well-off. As furlough is scaled down, low income jobs are likely to be lost more rapidly than high income jobs. The young are more likely to lose their job – particularly in the entertainment, hospitality or retail sectors. So, the idea of COVID-19 and its impacts as being equal is a folly. The virus is ageist, racist, sexist and picks on the poor.

When the crisis ends and a vaccination programme reduces the threat to the same level presented by other viruses – whenever that may be – the inevitable inquiry into how the pandemic was handled is likely to highlight the underlying economic and health inequality in our towns, cities and regions in the run up to 2020. Post COVID-19 our national debt will be huge – far more than after the economic crash of 2007 – 10. The resulting short, medium and long term monetary policy chosen by the political elite will have consequences. Indeed, in a new world of quantitative easing, low interest rates (for many), high asset prices (for a few), higher taxes (for some), there is a risk of repeating the economic, social and polarisation of the last 20 years. We should therefore consider using this narrow window of opportunity to reflect and influence the political elite before they unveil new plans for restarting the economy. If not, as planners and urban designers we will miss an opportunity to return to our roots and plan for a less polarised society, and in so doing we run the risk that an angry society will become angrier.

Field by field piecemeal planning is no longer appropriate – if it ever was. We need proper joined up thinking so blue, data, green, grey and power infrastructure is provided in the appropriate places at appropriate times. We need homes with access to outdoor space in which to breath clean air, facilitate passive and active activities and continue our new-found reconnection with nature. We need homes that are capable of multi-functional use for a family during the entire day not just the traditionally narrow period of breakfast, the evening and weekends. Dormitory settlements are likely to become less dormitory like. Offices are likely to evolve into ‘activity hubs’. Manufacturing will evolve into a post Brexit, post COVID-19 world. On the high street there will be winners and losers as businesses either adapt or fail. The convenience of deliveries to your front door will continue to grow. Hopefully, your use of local commercial facilities will continue to grow. And, whilst the clapping may have stopped, hopefully the sense of caring for your local community will continue to grow. Indeed, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for change, as it is not since the early 1960s that our national debt has been more than our GDP. So, going back to the life you had before February 2020 is not really an option. Think differently, think positively, times have changed. What will be your role in developing the ‘new normal’?