As Greater London moves to solve the conundrum of a return to work with reduced public transport capacity, the acceleration of reclaimed space for pedestrians and bicycles is underway. Of course, this is not unique to London, and many cities are spotlighting similar moves. But with prototypical grandeur, it is Central London that will be creating “one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city in the world.”
After all, if cities can know, London knows how. One aspect of experiencing the past two months in the United Kingdom is the profound sense of history that is ever apparent. Like many, I’ve been indulging in past accounts of similar events, including Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and Samuel Pepys’ real-time diary from the 1660’s (a parody of which has been very popular on Twitter).
A former suburban mayor in the Seattle area recently wrote in a new online publication that urbanism is under threat. I humbly disagree; London and other historic urban venues have coped and reinvented before. The touted reclaimed space of London is a recalibration, a move to a “density with distance” that will accelerate trends already underway to offset the impacts of climate change and enhance public health and safety (of the pre-COVID kind).
“Density with distance” is a fun shorthand that describes nothing new. As Defoe’s protagonist wrote, “The face of London was now indeed strangely altered.” That’s just what we see today.