Urban planning experts share 3 characteristics of an ideal neighbourhood to live in during a pandemic

A view of the entrance sign at 46th Street which has been temporarily converted to ‘Restaurant Row’ for outdoor dining during the fourth phase of the coronavirus pandemic reopening on Sept. 6, 2020, in New York. Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
  • As most of us practice social distancing or stay home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the neighbourhoods we live in are important.
  • Insider spoke with urban planning experts about the aspects of an ideal neighbourhood during a pandemic.
  • The ultimate place to live has a diversity of businesses, parks, and open public spaces, they said.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Six months into the spread of the coronavirus across the US, most people who have the option to do so, are spending more time in their own neighbourhoods than they might have before the pandemic.

In such a situation, Sam Lubell, an architectural journalist, says the characteristics of a neighbourhood are more important than they used to be since more people are staying home and less are commuting to work. In April 2020, he wrote an op-ed for the LA Times about how the pandemic will change cities.

“A huge part of any neighbourhood is its proximity to work,” he told Insider. “Eventually people will go back to work, but they won’t go back in the same numbers that they had before. In the short term, your neighbourhood is everything.”

In March 2020, William Fulton, a former planning director for the City of San Diego and the director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, wrote a paper about the future of cities after the pandemic and made a similar point that remote work makes people’s home neighbourhoods more important.

Insider spoke with Lubell, Fulton, and urban planning experts Quentin Stevens and Karl Samuelsson about what people need from their neighbourhoods during a pandemic. Here are three characteristics they say the ideal neighbourhood should have.

The ideal neighbourhood to live in amid the pandemic is walkable.

This means that there are different types of businesses that residents can easily access — especially outdoor restaurants. “I think the ideal place to live is in a neighbourhood with a lot of diversity, so you can walk or ride your bike to a store or to an outdoor restaurant,” Fulton told Insider. “That’s the kind of place I would move to.”

According to Walkscore, a website that ranks neighbourhoods’ walkability, a walkable neighbourhood has a mixture of income and business types. This means it includes affordable housing and plenty of different places where residents can work and spend money.

Lubell said that an ideal neighbourhood would have nearby amenities, like “access to a park, outdoor dining, and things that you can do in a small group on your own.”

Having open public spaces where people can meet is critical.

Quentin Stevens, an urban design researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, who wrote a paper in May 2020 about how to save urban life from the impacts of the pandemic, said that living in an area with a lot of open public space is important for people to encounter one another.

“Public space doesn’t necessarily have to be filled up with stuff — just making it available for people to go out there and use is important because we all need more space than we used to,” Stevens said. “We need spaces where we can bump into people and create more of that in areas that don’t have it, and the pandemic is creating those opportunities.”

New york city parks busy weekend coronavirus
People fill Sheep Meadow in Central Park during the coronavirus pandemic on May 2, 2020 in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty Images

Different types of parks in a neighbourhood makes it more suitable for pandemic life.

Karl Samuelsson, an urban researcher at the University of Gävle in Stockholm, Sweden, thinks accessible natural spaces of all sizes are crucial to pandemic life.

“From the street cross-section to the pocket park, to the larger parks, to very large nature areas — I think all of them need to play a role in the future cities,” Samuelsson told Insider.

While a tree outside your window can boost your mood from indoors, a pocket park around the corner offers easy access to the outdoors.

“In Stockholm, it’s the mid-sized areas that have really been important,” Samuelsson added. “They are fairly large — so you can observe a distance to other people — but still easily accessible.”