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New normal – 7 ways the pandemic is transforming Australian cities

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Historically, pandemics like the one the world is currently contending with have always sparked major changes in affected cities. Cholera and typhoid inspired the introduction of sewage systems, aqueducts, parks and boulevards. Meanwhile, the Spanish flu influenced the development of modern architecture. So, it stands to reason that Australia’s major cities will undergo their own transformations as a result of the 2020 pandemic. Below, we take you through seven of the most interesting emerging trends: 

1. The rise of co-working spaces

There are some stunning new serviced office spaces in Melbourne, Sydney and Australia’s other major cities, offering next-level care to clients. This new breed of co-working space has a strong health and wellness focus, with cutting-edge fitness and relaxation facilities, gourmet dining experiences, and COVID-safe hygiene practices. 

As the forerunners of this new niche start revolutionising the CBD environment, we’re likely to see many more office spaces converting to this model. Already, there are both luxury and budget options available. Those looking to keep costs low can enjoy a desk in a common area (with social distancing rules applied, of course). Meanwhile, those seeking a bit of luxury can enjoy a private office with amazing extras like e-bike rental and, in some cases, even helicopter rides.  

2. Less centralization 

It was once the case that if you wanted to work in a specific field, you had to be in a major capital city. However, in a world now accustomed to remote working arrangements, this is no longer the case. In Melbourne alone, city traffic is down 90%, with just 8% of office towers currently occupied.

As the years progress, it seems clear that less importance will be placed on a person’s location or ability to commute to a central office. Rather, flexible working arrangements will continue to evolve, allowing Australians more freedom in where they chose to live. In turn, this should take a lot of pressure off formerly high-traffic areas, thus transforming the inner-city landscape.

This redistribution will extend beyond the outer suburbs of the major cities. Indeed, the idea of “major cities” may gradually become a thing of the past as workers are no longer tied to any physical location. We may see a slow migration out of the capitals as people are able to base their choice of where to live on other priorities like proximity to family, farmland, or beaches. 

3. Infrastructure transformations

Though nothing is set in stone yet, more than 100 doctors, public health, and transport experts in Australia have added their names to an open letter calling for improved cycling and walking spaces in our major cities. The letter details how these upgrades will benefit the physical and mental health of Australians while also allowing for everyone to adhere to social distancing rules. 

If this letter has the desired effect, we can all look forward to an improved network of bicycle lanes and better separation between cyclists, traffic, and pedestrians. More improvements will roll out once the basics have been taken care of.

4. Living architecture 

With health and wellness now central concerns for Australians, we are likely to see a rise in the kind of living architecture popular in cities like Singapore. Buildings with garden rooftops and green balconies and walls may soon dominate the skylines in our major cities. 

In unison with this added greenery, we are likely to see a greater focus on sustainable practices and employee wellness programs in office spaces. Health checks, new hygiene practices, and contact tracing technology will likely also be integrated into our daily work routines over the coming months and years. 

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5. Public transport disruption

According to reports, public transport use has dropped by around 60% thanks to the pandemic. Experts are suggesting that for most people, it will likely take years before they are comfortable with the idea of using public transport. 

This disruption to the public transport industry will create many flow-on effects, not the least of which being the rise of more eco-friendly options like electric bikes, bicycles, skateboards, and scooters. Indeed, the infrastructure transformations recommended in the open letter mentioned above are taking this massive shift in our commuting preferences as a given. 

6. A renewed focus on health, safety, and hygiene

You’ve probably already noticed the proliferation of hand sanitiser stations in shops, businesses, and public places. However, this is more of a stop-gap measure designed to offer some layer of protection while more permanent hygiene measures are put in place. 

Over the coming months and years, we can expect to see massive changes in interior design and healthcare infrastructure. These changes will, of course, occur within the healthcare industry. However, they will also branch out into every aspect of city life. Everything from the furniture to the flooring in your favourite shops and places of business is likely to get a makeover.  

7. The restaurant scene will never be the same again

Many cafes, restaurants, and eateries simply cannot survive without their pre-pandemic traffic. With social distancing restrictions in place and reduced capacity mandated in Australian cities, we will see a continued trend of restaurant closures over the coming months. Though this is a sad state of affairs, it is not hopeless. 

As we become accustomed to our new way of living, savvy restaurateurs will develop new models that allow for social distancing while also generating the kind of profit needed to survive and thrive in the industry. It’s hard to say precisely what this will look like as it’s still early days. However, you can look forward to a new world of hygienic dining options opening up soon. 

While no one’s excited about the fact that we’re going through a pandemic, there’s no denying the fact that there will be some silver linings to the ordeal. Among these are the positive transformations we should see rolling out in cities across Australia. With a greater focus on health and wellness, there’s hope that our post-pandemic future will be bright.

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