What will Wanstead look like in a post-COVID-19 world? In the fourth of a series of articles, Chair of Wanstead Society Scott Wilding, who is exploring these issues as part of his job, offers his thoughts
By September, a new normal will have set in. We are all used to social distancing, waiting to get into shops, wearing masks and so on. These have become part of everyday life. With the onset of autumn, we begin to take more steps to life as usual, with pupils returning to school.
However, the Chief Medical Officer for England announced in August that we have come to the limits of what we can safely do to open up society. Until, or unless, a vaccine is found for COVID, social distancing is here to stay. So, what does it mean for us?
The death of the commute? Well, possibly for some. At the time of writing, about 55% of people had visited their workplace compared to January, and many service sector jobs doubt if they will return to large London-based offices before January, or at all.
Even if those of us who work in offices do return, it will be very different. Only two people in a lift at any time. Buildings operating at about 30% capacity. Working at home two to three days a week a necessity. This means a very different look and feel to how we live our life. For instance, visits to parks have increased by around 100%. A fairly obvious statistic as this article is written in summer, but as gyms and health centres have been closed – and many people are working from home – the park has become the new exercise space. This is likely to become a more long-term trend as the benefits of outside exercise have reached more people during lockdown.
Our overall travel patterns have also changed. TfL estimates that weekday Tube travel is down by about 70%, although weekend travel patterns are increasing. So, we are either travelling less in general or doing more by car. Although general traffic has increased since lockdown was eased, it’s not up to pre-lockdown levels. Freight traffic is about 15% down on March and general traffic is down about 10%. This may be a general trend towards less car use. A possibility supported by the fact that cycling is up 146% in England to July.
Apart from more cycling, the other good thing about lockdown, which we seem to be keeping, at least for now, is improved air quality. Since March, nitrogen dioxide pollution is down significantly on 2019 levels. It’s unclear as we approach winter if this will continue, but with less road traffic and fewer flights, it’s possible London is heading for one of the cleanest years in terms of air quality.
Lockdown and COVID represent real challenges, but an old Chinese proverb claims that in every crisis is an opportunity. Perhaps our opportunity is the ability to move away from four wheels to two, and to keep the benefits of cleaner air we have so far enjoyed.