Christopher Martin, our Trustee and Co-founder of Urban Movement, on cities and urban life after the coronavirus lockdown.
How the 'COVID Safe Streets' of today can become the 'Climate Safe Streets' of tomorrow.
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades,
For ever and forever when I move.
From ‘Ulysses’, by Alfred Lord Tennyson
I was reading this, one of my favourite poems, again the other day on a beautiful and sunny ‘lockdown’ weekend. I have always liked the feeling behind this poem because I too have always had itchy feet when staying in one place too long.
I love to travel to different cities; to observe, talk with people, and experience different ways of seeing. This is why I initially struggled with lockdown, yearning to ‘roam with a hungry heart’.
It is safe to say that I quickly found pleasure in my new hyper-local existence, however. I discovered my local streets which I had no cause to walk down before, and I began to recognise the faces of people in my neighbourhood - a look, becoming a glancing smile, to a nod and ‘hi’, and now a pirouetting chat as we keep moving but say hello.
We need to reopen the economy, but we should do it on a different basis from before. We need streets that will enable and inspire people to carry on walking and cycling that trip that they used to jump in the car for, because of the climate - sure - but also because of that sense of community that we have built, worked hard for, and enjoyed.
During this crisis we need to quickly roll out COVID Safe Streets, but when we are over the worst we need these to become the ‘Climate Safe Streets’ that protect us from the next.
We need streets that will nurture the recovery of our wilting economy. To paraphrase a deputy Major of Milan, if everybody drives a car, there is no space for people to move and enjoy the city, and there is no space for commercial activities outside shops, bars and restaurants - which are and very much will be a valuable part of the economy when lockdown is lifted.
We need to reopen the economy, but we should do it on a different basis from before. We also need streets that will enable and inspire people to carry on walking and cycling those trips that they used to jump in the car for, because of the climate - sure - but also because of that sense of community that we have built, worked hard for, and enjoyed.
To achieve this, the path is simple – if not necessarily easy. On the first day back to work for the majority of people, we will travel there by the easiest and most inviting mode possible - as was ever thus as my colleague John Dales likes to say. So, my job is to make that choice the one that is best for the planet, best for society, and best for you!
To achieve this I like to apply my principles of Hedonistic Urbanism to urban design.
We do SO much because it gives us joy and we find it fun - even some things we might look back on and cringe at - but we do them because it gave us pleasure, and human beings thrive on pleasure. So with this, we need to take space on streets to allow people to be safe for COVID Safe Streets, but then we need to use this space to make your journey to work on day one of ‘Normal Life 2.0’ an absolute joy, if you choose to get there in a way that helps everyone. If we can achieve this, then we will be making our streets Climate Safe.
We need to develop Covid Safe Streets today that stay on to be the Climate Safe Streets we sorely need tomorrow.— Christopher Martin (@chriscities) April 22, 2020
On World Earth Day we should reflect on the fact that this immediate health crisis is connected to the deeper emergency of the emerging environmental crisis. pic.twitter.com/rckAnf6LCg
I will sign off in the poetical way that I began. I love the poem Ulysses and it can teach us a lot about the mess we are in and our way out.
The main takeaway is about overcoming a situation that threatens to bring us down - just as the environmental crisis is threatening us - but the last line sums up my feelings for how we must behave to fight the Climate Emergency.
Strong in will, we must strive, seek, find, and not yield.
John Dales has been noticing some new and interesting things in his local community whilst #walkingfromhome.
BMX world champion, Shanaze Reade tells us the variety of ways she's been #walkingfromhome.