Living and working local - is now the time for change?

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:25 pm on 8 June 2020

An Australian city planner believes Covid-19 has presented a rare opportunity for people to change their work and recreational lifestyle.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER, 2017: Auckland downtown aerial view.

Photo: 123RF

The tight restrictions introduced globally forced a shift in how and where people worked – with those who could working from home and avoiding the daily commute to the city.

It also meant people staying closer to home, when restrictions were eased, were still required to shop and recreate locally.

When it comes to city planning, the concept of having people live, work and do recreation in the one neighbourhood has been considered one of the best outcomes for city planning, but is tough to achieve.

Sydney-based planner Halvard Dalheim told RNZ Afternoons Covid-19 has made his city think about that concept of living locally.

“We’re all now looking at are the ways forward, people are all of a sudden going ‘how do we look at how we plan public realm’ in terms of where we have to social distance, if we have to continue doing that, how do you have playgrounds that work and getting right down to the nitty gritty,” he said.

“I saw a photo today of how you might have a discotheque with people actually sitting on chairs so, I think it’s going to change the way we think about the local spaces that we work in, live in and recreate in.”

Dalheim said striking that balance of working and living locally as opposed to travelling is an idea he believes people want.

“Everyone would feel fantastic if you could walk to your local employment, or work at home, or walk down to the local shops, and I think the whole part is that walking part and being part of a human scale of cities.

“We’re sometimes caught in, we get in the car before we know it we’re in a large centre with tall buildings and there’s nothing human about it where we’re going so, for five days of the week we’re not in a place that feels as comfortable as our local areas which is where we chose to live as distinct from chose to work.”

Dalheim admits his ideas are based on nostalgia – a nod to the good old days of hubs.

He said hubs can have strong flow on effects for local communities.

“If we can have more people working from home and then shopping at home it feeds on itself in terms of more local spending at home, which means you can have more shops at home, and it keeps on feeding on itself.

“We have an opportunity now to really think about how do we grow local activities? How do we think about the local places we walk in? When I’ve been going out for a walk or a bit of a jog, you see lots of people on the footpaths, and I think we’ve all experienced it, the footpaths are not particularly in great shape and the lighting is not so (good) there so it’s not great to walk at night…

“Then you get to your local shops - how do we grow our local shops? And then how do we even grow local employment? You’re allowed to work in some sectors at home, but most industries nowadays… are quite benign to 30 or 40 years ago so, can we have more people working at home? Because the more we have a home, it changes the whole thing of where we work… There’s so many different advantages if we can change our thinking of spending a lot of time (thinking) how do we create the big structures in the city, for metropolitan organisations to say ‘how do we plan that last part of the city? How do we plan a local neighbourhood? What is the role of governments to support communities?”

Dalheim said for local working and living to work, councils and governments need to engage communities to ensure it can be successful.

“We have the opportunity to wake up at one point as we’re sitting on the veranda on a rocking chair going ‘we did an amazing thing over the last 20 to 30 years, we slowly changed our community’… It is that piecemeal, step by step process, and I think some of the things we can do are very tangible and very doable today and we don’t need to get huge amounts of money.

“It’s important to do what the communities want first because you need to gain people’s trust, so we deliver the first thing and deliver the second thing, all along we have a conversation about where it is we want to go.”