The Covid-19 crisis has changed the way the planning and development sector works now and in the future. But what about the way we experience the built environment?

Life hasn't changed much at Participatr in professional terms - we've embraced flexible and home working for a long time and demand for digital engagement services is naturally high. But this blog post isn't about professional practice, it's about what I've found to be the benefits of the lockdown as a user of the built environment rather than an agent of change.

I've gained an appreciation of the hyper-local

With fewer opportunities to get my daily exercise in the form of a there-and-back walking or cycling commute into Bristol city centre, I've started exploring the local area in the form of new walking or cycling loops (#CoronaLoops if you follow me on Strava). The good weather has helped, but it's made me realise how many open spaces, interesting streets and nice views I'd be missing in my neighbourhood by walking or cycling *with purpose* all the time.

I've realised that highways are generally out of proportion

When you walk along a footpath or pavement parallel to a highway and it is even moderately busy with cars and lorries, the pavement feels like it's there to protect you. But when there are no cars, it feels a bit silly to confine yourself to such a narrow space. I've jogged out into the road a few times to keep my distance from pedestrians and, in most cases, there has still been plenty of space for cars to pass safely.

I've realised the benefit of human proximity in a non-social sense

Workplaces matter, whether the people you sit near are your colleagues or not, but they don't have to be offices in the traditional sense. It isn't just about the direct social interaction that you have with colleagues or people that you see on a regular basis, it also helps to have people that you don't know having conversations nearby. It helps give you perspective and reminds you that everyone is human and deals with annoyances, stresses or challenges on a daily basis, no matter what their vocation.

I've started looking up, rather than down or forward

I've already extolled the virtues of not walking or cycling *without purpose*, but it also helps you appreciate the details above eye level. When you're walking, running or cycling with purpose and at speed, you tend to focus on not tripping up or running over small children or animals. But when your focus is on maximising the little time that you get outdoors, you can afford to look up and appreciate architectural details and long distance views that only appear for a second.

I'm turning up to meetings more relaxed

I usually spend a lot of time on the road and on public transport travelling to professional meetings. What that means in practice is that I turn up to important meetings with important people feeling stressed, unnerved, sweaty (and, dare I say it, usually in need of the loo). There are many face-to-face professional encounters that I cherish, but this crisis has helped me realise how many meetings could go a lot better if they were held digitally and immediately preceded by a walk around my local park rather than standing in someone's arm pit on the Tube.

Paul Erskine-Fox - Founder, Participatr

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