Covid-19 and the growing climate crisis are accelerating trends such as advances in technology, more flexible and remote working and greener travel – that are causing “a seismic shift” in the way people use and view cities, according to research by a German energy company.
The study, published by E.ON, states that this shift has been particularly felt by the business community, with 92 per cent of leaders saying they have made “sweeping changes in response to Covid-19”.
The research was conducted on behalf of E.ON by Opinium in September 2020 with 500 UK business decision-makers at businesses based in cities.
The advances include planning for long-term flexible remote working (44 per cent), downsizing office space (37 per cent) and becoming more digital (44 per cent) in the next 12 months – all of which have the potential to radically alter the make-up of cities across the UK.
Four-fifths (80 per cent) of business leaders say they are actively seeking ways to make their companies more environmentally friendly.
Such changes mean "the role of cities has been called into sharp focus", says the research. Although most businesses (90 per cent) feel rooted in their locale, saying it is important to their business, nearly half (44 per cent) regard the cities in which they operate as no longer suitable for their needs.
Ricky Burdett, professor of Urban Studies at London School of Economics and director of LSE Cities, said: “You can’t dissociate where you run your business or how you run it from where people live and where they enjoy themselves. As such, what the current pandemic has shown is that there is a clear link between the physical organisation of the city and the way we live, work and the ways we can improve our wellbeing, safety and the future of our planet.”
Martin Reeves, chief executive at Coventry City Council, believes that the funding model needs to change. He said: “The investment model into cities is broken. It is based on a very narrow set of parameters economically without a real understanding of how you invest for wider value capture. If Covid-19 has shown us one thing, it is that the power of big government often becomes fragile under a crisis – which is a worrying thought as the climate crisis continues to accelerate.”