Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

FUTURE

Former mayoral hopeful Rory Stewart: make London a garden city post-Covid

Businesses face unprecedented change after months of lockdown. In this four-part series, 'The National' assesses what challenges they face on the road to recovery

Rory Stewart believes London should be transformed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. AFP 
Rory Stewart believes London should be transformed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. AFP 

The former Mayor of London candidate Rory Stewart has proposed turning the capital into a “garden city” to make it a successful metropolis in the post Covid era.

The former minister in Theresa May's government said officials should lean into a new era and produce a citizen friendly cityscape.

“London has an advantage that it’s got more green space than almost any city on Earth, which was a very lucky design. I’d begin with planting another 20 million trees because we should be really increasing our clean air in a thoughtful way.

Rory Stewart

“If you take a crisis as an opportunity that means that you're going to have to move very heavily into making London a successful city post Covid. You have to be conscious of the fact we're going to have less cars and more people walking so we really need to lean into the outdoor spaces.

"We need to make London a real outdoor garden city. Of course that's challenging though with our weather so we're going to achieve some pretty exciting architecture.

“London has an advantage that it’s got more green space than almost any city on Earth, which was a very lucky design. I’d begin with planting another 20 million trees because we should be really increasing our clean air in a thoughtful way. And we should be making it the safest most attractive post Covid city.

There would however be a painful period of readjustment, which would see some sectors face collapse, possibly wholesale.

“But before then for London and other cities it is going to be deeply worrying. I’ve been talking to a major company that has laid off a third of its staff and told the rest to work from home so they can close almost all their London space. This is a huge company and that is going to wipe out all the sandwich bars, all the taxis and everything that surrounds that.

Rory Stewart said London was ideally placed to be recreated as a garden city because it already boasts plenty of green space. EPA
Rory Stewart said London was ideally placed to be recreated as a garden city because it already boasts plenty of green space. EPA

The history of London made it one of the hubs of a global services-driven economy and that appeared to be most affected by the Covid-19 driven changes.

“The whole point about London is that it was the world's capital of face-to-face services. We have cyclists, people out into the streets, the cafes, the restaurants and meeting places but the strongest thing hit by Covid has been face-to-face services," he said.

"Nearly 90 per cent of the London economy involves that. We had developed a civilisation, where people really enjoyed being out and about where it made sense for us to pay £4 for a coffee. But we did it because we liked being out in cafes, we liked being out on the streets, we liked meeting people and that whole extravagant consuming life. But of course Covid has shown many people that this is unnecessary. We can shop online, we can get all the same stuff, we just don't see people. And we lose that whole community feeling the sense the public space, everybody's retreated to their private space. And I think that for a city that's catastrophic."

It resilience faces one of its sternest tests and that means the city leaders should take the opportunity to make a root-and-branch strategic rethink. Mr Stewart himself had made many of the themes of changing the way the city operates planks of his now abandoned campaign to run as an independent against first term incumbent Sadiq Khan. The election was due to be held last year but will now be run in 2021.

"London continues to be one of the greatest cities on earth but I think we really need to do a ‘future study’ on it because I’m very worried about London and all the world’s cities," he said.

Updated: September 20, 2020 09:05 AM

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