What will Wanstead and Woodford look like in a post-COVID world? In the first of a series of articles, Chair of Wanstead Society Scott Wilding, who is exploring these issues as part of his job, offers his thoughts
The past few months have been difficult and challenging for everyone. Our normal way of life has completely changed, and we have an enhanced appreciation for frontline workers, not just the NHS, but our refuse collectors, HGV drivers, shelf stackers, transport workers and many, many more.
But as we begin to emerge from lockdown, what will our lives look like? We all want to return to how it was, but maybe now it’s time to consider what we want to rush back to, and what we don’t. And although this disease is a tragedy that has affected everyone, some positives have come from the bad.
Traffic and travel
When the lockdown came into force, we turned off the white noise of the A12, the flights from City Airport and others. We started to hear the birds again. We began to breathe cleaner air. It’s going to be much harder to return to pre-COVID levels of noise and pollution – and we might not have to. TfL estimates traffic fell by almost 50% during the peak of lockdown, with London’s worst pollutants (NO2 emissions) down by 27% and, in some spots, pollution fell by almost 50%.
Do we really want to return to a world where that goes back up again? With many office workers now at home for the foreseeable future, the opportunity can be measured in time. Time to walk or cycle the kids to school, if you can. Time to walk and cycle to the High Street to shop rather than drive to the big supermarkets. Time to take socially distanced exercise rather than drive to a gym. It’s also worth taking the time to consider how we support essential traffic like deliveries, vans and HGVs, and how we can encourage more sustainable travel.
Now may also be the time for airports to consider whether they need to expand. Do we need another runway now business travellers have got used to video conferencing? It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Air travel will, for the next 12 months, be at historic lows. And the UK holiday industry could reap huge benefits.
It’s been tough. We have all been at home. But from road-based WhatsApp groups to shopping for vulnerable people and Zoom quizzes with mates, my guess is more of us know more of our neighbours than we did before – and that can only be a good thing. Humans are sociable animals, and from adversity has sprung hope. Hope that we will continue new-found friendships to form a more cohesive and positive place to live.
The ‘new normal’ is going to be different, but it’s not going to be all bad. We just have to choose which bits of the old life we want back and which bits we’d rather leave in the past.