With the pandemic upending normal work life, Australians are rediscovering their local suburbs and considering the bigger role they could play in a post COVID society.
Professional services firm Arup has proposed a new plan to reimagine local suburbs as “superbias” that reinforce both a sense of local community and the future of inclusive, sustainable design.
Each design prioritises walking and cycling, communal public spaces, green infrastructure and better design flexibility.
The four areas of improvement
The company’s plan can be narrowed down to four main areas of improvement: evolving main streets, developing healthy connections between suburbs and cities, revitalising out of town complexes, and opening up suburbs to a more communal lifestyle.
To redesign main streets and boost local businesses heavily impacted by the pandemic, small test shops can take root in empty office spaces, diversifying retail and food options for locals.
Sidewalks could also be widened to allow for social distancing while promoting healthy foot traffic into the heart of the community.
As people return to work in the cities, transit-oriented development in suburbs would transition car based commuting to a more sustainable option.
Adding in walkable routes to transit stations can cut down on excessive car use, and investing in green infrastructure can both improve transportation’s carbon footprint and liven up previously dull spaces.
By improving overall public transportation, suburbs can both connect residents with cities and revitalise outdated out of town complexes.
While many large retail centres have suffered under the rise of online shopping, these old shopping centres can find a second life as retrofitted community hubs.
Instead of big box retailers in a sea of car parks, community hubs would provide a diverse range of multiuse housing and local businesses connected by convenient public transit. Old car park space would be open for pop up markets and public spaces.
The most ambitious lifestyle change is the transition from traditional suburban homes into community style neighborhoods.
Rather than live separated by white picket fences, neighbours can reconnect with each other through dormitory communities.
With no borders, open spaces can be used by all, whether it be a community garden for farm to table living, or a “Village Green” with playgrounds and plenty of space for walking or cycling.
Suburbs could also pool resources, generating and storing renewable power from rooftops and car parks for community use or as a backup in case of a city energy crisis.
These plans are ambitious but achievable, according to Arup, requiring communities diversify their main streets, build eco-friendly homes, encourage immediate improvements in cycling and walking, promote community health and culture and get innovative with funding in these economically tough times.
A way to restore a sense of community
“Superbias” could be the way to reestablish a desperately needed sense of community, especially in the wake of strict social distancing rules.
With new technology allowing for remote work, many people may opt to work from home and rely on their immediate surroundings rather than commute into the city.
Cycling and walking have skyrocketed in popularity as people look for a safe way to exercise and interact with others.
Best of all, it puts the focus back on small scale communities ready to flourish.