By: David Jenkins
The pandemic lockdowns have left us with some diametrically opposed approaches on how people want to configure their home and work lives.
On one side there are those who have moved into the regions, taking advantage of digital working tools and work from home policies to relocate and redefine what it means to be local.
At the same time, claims that the downtown cores of our cities would be abandoned have proved unfounded. Other people continue to gravitate to our urban centres where they can combine work, leisure and home-life with everything ideally within walking distance.
These trends were apparent before the pandemic but they have been accelerated and now pose some challenges to governments and infrastructure planners as they imagine the future.
Both trends are around different forms of localisation. In the regions, people are attracted to the idea of smaller communities and like the idea of supporting local businesses and building a local eco-system. Access to nature and environment are also factors.
In the cities, localisation is about having everything in close proximity to where you live. This extends not just to work but to restaurants, shops and cultural venues as people look for vibrancy in their neighbourhoods. It is not only about convenience, but connectivity.
These divergent trends create challenges for infrastructure planners as they allocate resources and decide on priorities. They must plan to serve both of these trends while also factoring in issues such as sustainability, housing affordability and equity.
It is an approach which requires an acknowledgement that the future will require more customization than we have had in the past.
The old model of people living in dormitory suburbs connected to their workplaces by roads and public transport infrastructure will remain, but new models are also emerging as many people make different life choices.
For planners, this requires flexibility and an understanding that new assets may have to change over time. Buildings might transition from a hotel to an apartment block to an office location, depending on changing local needs.
Roads may need to be pedestrianised, or have bike lanes installed. Other areas of Australia are re-introducing trams into streetscapes where cars have dominated for decades. To mitigate the environmental impact of major new toll roads, planners are introducing new green spaces.
Faced with these challenges, infrastructure planners need to be agile and innovative. Big infrastructure projects will still be needed, but many new assets will be smaller and more tailored to meet local needs.
The result will be a new diversity in an asset mix which seeks to serve different lifestyle trends and choices.
How the future looks is still a work in progress. To meet the exciting challenges ahead, planners must be sensitive to the change drivers and embrace flexibility and innovation as part of their skill set.