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Post-covid Europe needs more planning flexibility: ULI/IREBS

Increased public space, more mixed use buildings and greater flexibility in planning law are among the key requirements for future development of cities in the post-pandemic era, according to research findings published by the ULI and the International Real Estate Business School (IREBS).

ULI commissioned IREBS to answer the question; How we live in our cities after Corona? European Cities after Corona – Strategies for Resilient Cities and Real Estate is the result.

Gero Bergmann.

“The two central groups of actors for urban development will be public institutions and private investors, the reconstruction of the cities can only succeed in partnership,” Gero Bergmann, chairman of ULI Germany, Austria and Switzerland commented.

The pandemic will not lead to the oft-cited urban escape or to the death of inner cities, the report also concluded. “Even if greater density, mixed uses and shorter inner-city routes bring back aspects of medieval cities, something new is emerging above all: Cities are becoming more structured and at the same time more amorphous due to stronger inner district relationships,”said IREBS scientific director Tobias Just.

Thomas Just.

Not all of the pressure for change can be attributed to the recent health crisis. Franziska Plößl, research assistant and doctoral candidate, IREBS, said:” Cities are becoming more homely, more open and therefore more people-oriented. They are becoming greener anyway, not because of the pandemic, but because climate change is forcing it.”

The study found that 33.58% of respondents expect cities to physically expand so redensification remains important (20.83%). However, there was acknowledgment that cities cannot cope with the pressure to change on their own and it is necessary to think and act in terms of metropolitan regions that include cities and their surrounding areas.

Urban areas need more sub-division

Existing urban areas need to be subdivided into a network of quasi-self-sufficient districts in order to achieve a significant reduction in inner-city distances. This would enable a larger part of the traffic in a district could to switch to bicycles. However, this should not only apply to a few selected neighbourhoods otherwise there will be ‘displacement’, the report warns.

Franziska Plößl.

Survey participants indicated that the greatest challenges arise in the redesign of public spaces and in the conversion of existing properties and to overcome these core challenges planning law would have to be more flexible, but more private and public capital would also have to be mobilised.

The burden of adjustment and the opportunities would vary according to asset class. The survey indicated that the significant increase in the demand for housing that is expected cannot be satisfied within core cities, particularly as more open space is sought in the vicinity of apartment buildings which implies that physical expansion of cities will be required as well as densification.

Just said that the survey emphasises that more flexibility is required, especially of approval processes and in building and contract structures. “It is precisely this switch to a higher degree of flexibility that is likely to represent the greatest hurdle in implementation, especially because it emphasises at the same time that it requires closer cooperation between private and public actors, both in terms of raising capital and in terms of know-how.

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