Out of Every Crisis Comes Opportunity: Reimagining Aotearoa's Urban Centres Post Covid-19

Out of Every Crisis Comes Opportunity: Reimagining Aotearoa's Urban Centres Post Covid-19

The recovery from the Covid-19 crisis provides an opportunity to re-think the way that New Zealand’s urban centres are planned and developed, says Hannah Payne-Harker, a Wellington based Planner at Harrison Grierson. Bryce Powell, Senior Planner in our Auckland Airport office, says that recent trends might reveal what the future of living, working and transportation in these new urban centres could look like.

Lisa Hinton, a board member of the Urban Development Institute of New Zealand (UDINZ) has identified six key drivers in a post-Covid New Zealand that will shape how our urban centres develop and create new models of sustainable urban living:

Recession: We will inevitably enter a recession post-Covid-19. How deep is yet to be determined. This will put pressure on incomes with a wave of redundancies, liquidation and unemployment

Drift to A-Grade buildings: Pre-Covid saw businesses trading up to new, modern and safe premises. We are likely to see more of this as businesses seek high-tech, safe workplaces. What were once A-grade buildings will become untenanted B and C-grade.

Remote working: Employees, after having a taste of remote working, will expect the flexibility of working between office and home. Coupled with the financial constraints many businesses are now under, more commercial buildings are likely to be freed up leading to reduced demand for office space in city centres

Hotel construction: Investment in building stock and hotel rooms was based on an international tourism forecast that has changed dramatically. With a decrease in demand, old stock may be repurposed for private units and affordable housing

Retail shift online: Reduced tenancies of large retail and mall buildings after a shift to online retail

Housing affordability: Likely to remain a challenge particularly for young people in recession conditions.

We believe that taken together, the above six drivers are likely to lead to vacant/untenanted buildings in city centres. Innovative thinking is required to think about how we could repurpose these as vertical communities, mixed-use models and co-living spaces.

Re-purposing old stock is one of the most sustainable things we can do in the construction sector. For example, re-purposing buildings creates a framework for improving energy efficiency, both passively when increasing insulation and glazing performance, and actively improving the efficiency of the building services and bringing in renewable sourced energy.

Local focus
Bryce Powell, a Senior Planner at HG, says based on recent trends, post-Covid could see local centres strengthening with more people working from home and making use of communal hot desk facilities instead of commuting into CBDs. Companies would pay for hot desk space in circumstances where working from home is not practical. This will also provide opportunities to network. Offices will become breakout spaces where teams meet to collaborate in person and to provide a front desk for customers. Walking, cycling, e-bike and e-scooter use will increase with the increase in local activity. As retail shifts from bricks and mortar to virtual market places, they will require industrial floorspace more so than high street space.

Reshaping the future
To enable this form of urban design to take place in our urban centres, we need to unlock capital in-flows which could occur as New Zealand becomes an appealing location for overseas investors. We also need to ensure that our planning rules enable flexibility in modes of use.

We can expect to see Government support for this form of development in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 11: "make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable".

Multi-disciplinary consultancies such as Harrison Grierson are in the optimal position to assist with the urban design, surveying, planning and engineering that underpins a shift into the Post-Covid future. We’re looking forward to the challenge and to helping to make the world a better place for everyone.

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