Opportunity Lockdown 13 Nov 2020
Here we are again: a second lockdown! Not surprising everyone I know is fed up and feeling low. When will it all end? The Covid-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for some and the lock-down is tough for many but it does offer an opportunity. Back in May this year I wrote about how we should seize the opportunity which Coronvirus has created to green our cities. (https://timboatswain.wixsite.com/website/post/greening-the-city-and-coronavirus).
We have now experienced some of the more positive consequences of lockdown and social distancing: with the decrease in traffic, the freeing up of pavements and public spaces, a diminishing of noise and lessening of air pollution – air pollution can shorten life expectancy by as much as ten years (in the UK that amounts to around 10,000 premature deaths every year) and it affects the poor and minorities disproportionately.
The climate crisis has been fuelled (pun intended) by greenhouse gases. Across the world, transport is seen as the largest sector for emitting greenhouse gases (over a quarter of the world’s emissions). In June last year, the UK Government committed to zero greenhouse gases by 2050. This may seem a long way off and change is never easy but there is now an opportunity not only to speed up the process of transition but also adapt to a ‘new normal’ when it comes to the internal combustion engine rather than wait for the likely chaos that could emerge from last-minute attempts to comply.
Across the world from Bogota to Milan cities are banning petrol and diesel vehicles from their city centres.
Towns and cities are redefining themselves as 15 to 20 minutes places where, whether by walking or by bike, the public can reach many of the facilities and services they use daily including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and parks, without relying on a car.
I have argued before that for too long traffic has dominated the spaces in our cities. Now is the time to give back our streets and squares to the pedestrians and make the urban environment safer for everyone, more healthy for us, our children and our grandchildren.
ow do we do it? First, keep the measures for social distancing that have freed up streets and squares from traffic. Then nudge people away from using combustion engines. The UK has set the target for phasing them out by 2035. We need to bring that forward in the way Amsterdam has: by 2023 the city centre of Amsterdam aims to be emissions-free.
The incentives for electric vehicles need to be increased and the good news is that prices are coming down; for example, the cost of batteries has dropped by 90% in the last 10 years.
We need to increase the number of electric charging stations – it is beginning to happen, electric charging stations across the world have now reached over one million.
The authorities need to invest more in electric public transport – China now has 420,000 electric buses and London is a leader with 200, making it Europe’s largest electric bus fleet. We should promote cycling so there is a proportionate response to the way bike sales have taken off during this pandemic. And we need to encourage more walking for our hearts and our bodies generally. We need to make it safe for children to walk to school and reduce the parental ‘school runs’.
The plans for greening our urban environment need to be speeded up: trees, green strips and pollinators should come before traffic so that the air we breath is detoxified and the calming force of nature can improve our physical and mental health – something many of us need after the trauma inflicted by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Let’s get something life-changing and positive out of this dreadful crisis and seek a better urban environment. There is a lot to be done but with a bold vision for the future it’s achievable – carpe diem