Post-COVID will cities become ghost towns or a different kind of normal?

Cities have been the beneficiaries of the global trend towards urbanisation since the 1950s when people began leaving regional areas and moving to cities and urban areas in their millions. However, over the past year, as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic emerged and took hold – and became a worldwide pandemic – there has been a profound effect on cities, causing people and organisations to rethink their roles for the future.

This is the view of Marion Fulker, CEO of think tank organisation Committee for Perth, board member of Infrastructure Australia, and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia, Marion will be a keynote speaker at the Concrete Institute of Australia’s 30th biennial national conference, Concrete 2021, being held virtually from 5-8 September this year.

Marion’s presentation, ‘Disrupted: the future of cities and work’, will look at how cities that were once bustling, thriving places to work and live, have become ghost towns due to the pandemic. As a result, many practices and workplaces have changed and Marion asks if these will be short-term adjustments or long-term changes that will reshape cities.

An unintended consequence, regardless of the regime in which the pandemic was managed, has been that “the bright light that shone on cities as beacons of agglomeration, has dimmed”, according to Marion, and have become places to avoid.

How can we reconcile high-density living with social distancing? Can we adapt our conception of design and communal spaces? Returning to work is fraught with obstacles with hot-desking most likely a thing of the past and tower lifts that take a few people at a time now highly inefficient.

Marion says we’re also likely to see an increase in congestion on our roads as things approach the new kind of normal. With public transport remaining a problem, some companies are offering to pay for parking for their employees to get them back in the office.

Two schools of thought have emerged, according to Marion: cities will remain unpopular (and unpopulated) and fail to regain their pre-COVID appeal with suburbs and regional towns seeing new population growth; or cities will eventually regain their attraction through resilience and recover from the pandemic just as they have done from terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Don’t miss Marion Fulker’s enlightening presentation at Concrete 2021 in September when we meet online.

About the author

Desi Corbett

Desi is the Editor of Concrete in Australia and at the helm of our magazine for eight years. She was behind the Institute's weekly news bulletins from 2016-2021 and is now writing our focused news items. Desi has been an engineering news and features journalist/editor across all disciplines since 2013 - part of a 30-year career writing for a wide range of industries.