Our local communities have never before been so important in our day-to-day lives. With restrictions on movement and so many more people working from home, the past six months have seen local communities build strong connections and discover what is on their doorsteps.
With most people now not able or willing to travel to work, many have chosen to buy from local businesses. Local shops, from bookshops and butchers to bakeries and corner shops, have found new customers. By contrast, city centres have struggled without the throngs of office workers and tourists. As many offices remain closed or with skeleton staff, support businesses such as hairdressers, bars and cafés have been hit hard. Many city leaders across the world are now having to look again at what brings people to those districts.
But is this trend likely to continue once our lives begin to return to normal after the pandemic? As someone who came from a small town in Yorkshire to the bright lights of London, I see the value of large cities as well as the value of local centres. There is a future for them both if we can adapt and learn from what we have experienced. I am excited about the idea of people living differently as we step forward into a brave new world freed by technology but still needing human interaction.
I am a firm believer in the role the physical built environment has in enabling positive social and economic value. Where we create broad societal value, we all win. It is hard to achieve, particularly when pandemics come along and change all the rules, but perhaps that is the new normal we need to adjust to. We need to find the right mix for all our urban centres and build in the flexibility to enable society to cope with what we now know, and also what we cannot predict. This is a fantastic opportunity for the real estate sector to show what it is capable of, and for local communities to build a brighter future.
Amid the devastating human and economic impact of this pandemic, perhaps we can find optimism for the future if we learn to place greater value on who and what we have around us.
Sara Bailey is head of real estate at Trowers & Hamlins