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Friday, May 14, 2021

Six ways to improve liveability in a lockdown

A leading urban planner has revealed six changes governments could implement to improve liveability for Australians if the existing shutdown becomes a lockdown.

Mike Day, co-founder and director of Australian urban planning and design practice RobertsDay and a fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia, has expressed concern that little thought has been given to the liveability of Australians, their mental health and quality of life, if restrictions are tightened further without consideration of our daily life.

Mr Day is particularly concerned for the vast numbers of residents in low-density, single-use suburban housing developments that are not well connected or walkable. Many of these areas compel residents to use a car to access essential services and products and exercise. He said this will be even more difficult in a lockdown scenario.

“If they haven’t already, governments should be assessing ways they can improve the liveability of all Australians in such a scenario, without risking their exposure to COVID-19,” he said.

“Adopting measures to prioritise pedestrians over vehicles, to ensure essential products and services are in close proximity to the home, and allowing property owners to create affordable detached workplaces are a good start.”

Here Mr Day shares six changes governments could introduce to improve our liveability in a shutdown or future lockdown. 

1. Temporarily close selected streets to cars to enable residents to exercise at a safe distance

With gyms, sporting centres, playgrounds, beaches and even some coastal walks closed, governments could consider designating signature streets for access other than by car to enable residents to run or walk daily along generous pathways.

Signature streets with substantial tree canopies, lighting and continuous, uninterrupted routes could provide safe and accessible exercise areas. This action would also reduce recent heavy cycling and pedestrian movement on existing popular walkways, which are often only 1.5m to 2m wide – inadequate for prams, pedestrians and bikes to all be accommodated on the one pathway.

2. Allow property owners to build affordable detached workspaces or convert garages in their rear yards

Employees might be forced to work from home until at least October. As many parents are not in a position to work productively around kids, in shared houses or small apartments, legislation could be temporarily relaxed to allow property owners to build affordable granny flats, demountable units or studios above garages, or convert their garages into offices.

3. Allow tax-free subleasing of residential rooms with external access

For property owners who already have rooms on their properties with separate external access – such as studios atop garages or backyard granny flats – the government could also temporarily relax legislation to allow existing owner-occupiers, and even tenants, to sublease those rooms.

4. Allow for multiple pop-up essential shops and services close to residents

Residents of a neighbourhood having to visit a single remote major supermarket or shopping area to purchase essentials, makes social distancing a challenge and often necessitates driving.

Governments could relax planning provisions to allow small businesses to set up ‘pop-up’ retail shops – such as market stalls and food trucks – in multiple areas in any neighbourhood, including within residential streets. This would provide for localised food purchases, alleviating the need to drive to major retailers, boost more small business trading and ensure that residents do not travel far from home.

5. Boost eBike capacity

eBikes are usually offered more readily in urban areas close to the city centre, but Mr Day recommends that they be introduced to low-density suburban growth areas during a lockdown. Cycling guarantees social distancing, and eBikes are an excellent low-cost alternative to purchasing a car and can cover similar distances.

6. Enable residents to exercise more than once a day

Mr Day does not want to see Australia follow the UK by permitting residents only to leave their homes for exercise once a day. Children, pets and those who live in small, balcony-free apartments or share houses need to head outdoors more often.

Minimal time spent outside the confines of the home could also lead to an increase in social issues, such as domestic violence and an adverse impact on health and wellness.

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