Responses to the coronavirus pandemic showed that we can quickly make more space for people and nature in our towns and cities. This briefing on lessons from lockdown by Green New Deal group member, and Rapid Transition Alliance co-ordinator Andrew Simms looks at how that was done. The measures are increasingly important as people become more aware of a dramatic global decline of plant and animal numbers and how habitat loss drives the spread of viruses between animals and humans. Ecological decline creates prime conditions for pandemics as our human activities push climate breakdown and encroach ever closer into the last wild spaces on earth.
Even as the human world paused in the path of a pandemic it was obvious that people – whether those in power or members of the public – were on a steep learning curve. Lessons abound – about past mistakes like allowing food and energy to be wasted and putting pollution before people in towns and cities – but also of humanity’s extraordinary ability to work together and solve problems. This is one of three briefings that look at this extraordinary period of time when – despite the fear and personal tragedy for some – many people began to see and use the space around them differently, reconnect with others in new ways and appreciate having cleaner air to breath.
How we learned to provide each other with more space, green space and breathable air
After months of self-isolation, it became clear that – in moments of crisis – people can get a great deal more out of a simpler life than they might have expected. In particular, this briefing is about how:
- People around the world have felt the benefits of less traffic, cleaner air and the return of nature.
- Governments have responded by trying to encourage people to keep cycling, especially when they are commuting to work.
- Despite the fear and deprivation of the Covid-19 crisis, people have felt the benefits – even in the most crowded cities – of having more space.
Later the briefing looks at possible policy responses that might make sure we can keep the benefits of the crisis once the virus itself is under control.
So how can we ensure that people can continue to breathe clean air after the pandemic, without letting the traffic take over and pollution levels rise again to previous norms? How do we make sure that people have the space they need to thrive, physically and mentally? The solutions will have to include better, greener public transport, and redesigning streets to reduce our focus on motorised traffic and to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists wherever possible. It will mean making urban design greener, placing biodiversity, clean air and water as the top priority. These are big changes but they are all possible.
This guide has been made possible by the support of the KR Foundation – krfnd.org – it is the result of contributions from many groups and individuals and is published by the Rapid Transition Alliance – rapidtransition.org – where you can find many of these examples explored in more detail.