Daisy Narayanan, Director of Urbanism for Sustrans, drawns on the lessons of Covid-19 to show how local, active travel can contribute to more liveable and sustainable communities.

– – –

During lockdown, people had a taste of what it’s like to live locally.

We all learned to adapt, forced to live locally through lockdown, bringing a renewed understanding of the joys of doing so: the lack of long commutes, more time spent with loved ones in our households or those living nearby, hearing birdsong, getting to know your neighbours.

Many realised distances in their towns and cities are much shorter than they first thought and discovered hidden places in their neighbourhood. People tried to shop local.

As we ease out of lockdown and return to a sense of normality, a glimmer of hope and opportunity is on the horizon.

In the same way that working from home will continue post-lockdown, walking, wheeling and cycling for everyday journeys could become the norm for a lot more people.

And the benefits to our health, communities, and environment will help lead us to a greener recovery, and a more active nation.

The case for change is a compelling one:

  • Private car use makes up 40% of transport carbon emissions
  • 49% of households in the most deprived areas don’t have access to a car
  • Shockingly, children in Scotland’s 20% most deprived communities are three times as likely to be in a collision with a motor vehicle as children in the least deprived 20%

Over the past few years, I have been reflecting more and more on how much the quality of my life in the cities and towns I have lived in was influenced by how easily, conveniently and affordably I could get around.

I grew up in India and Indonesia and I have had the good fortune to have lived and worked in Singapore, the US, London – and since 2004, I have made Edinburgh my home.

In Bombay and Singapore, I mostly walked as I had most of what I needed close to me, and I used public transport to get everywhere – I felt safe even travelling late at night.

In America, I lived in a small town, but had to hop in a car to go to the gym or to buy milk, as there were no pavements to get there.

I wasn’t in a good place then, either physically or mentally – and I think my dependency on the car played a big part.

In Edinburgh and London, I discovered the joy of cycling, getting to places quicker, feeling healthier both physically and mentally.

Where my life gave me a choice to live within a 15-20 minute community, I realised I felt at my most healthy, my most active and most productive.

In Sustrans, I lead a strand of work that explores what it is that makes a city, a town, a place – liveable.

And to me it is about connections – physical connections & digital connections. But most importantly, human connections.

A place that has people at its heart.

The 20-minute neighbourhood concept is all about ‘living locally’—giving people the ability to meet most of their daily needs within a 20-minute walk from home.

Last year, it was brilliant to see the Scottish Government put the 20 minute principle and a place-based approach at the heart of its Programme for Government.

Neighbourhoods are defined by the communities who live there and each will have unique expectations of the services and facilities they need.

For example, a 20 minute neighbourhood will be different in Edinburgh city centre compared to an island community or a place in the Highlands.

It will be different for people with different abilities – a 20 minute neighbourhood will be different for someone in a wheelchair, someone who is visually impaired, or an 8 or 80 year old.

By putting active travel at the heart of our towns and cities, we believe we can work towards a Scotland which puts people first.

We’re encouraging everyone to help keep the #WheelsInMotion by choosing active ways to travel as we ease out of lockdown. To support that, we need to see change across Scotland that makes these connections possible.

The status quo is not an option.

Making a street, a neighbourhood, a shopping district for everyone means creating more space, more time, more greenery, less stress, higher quality of placemaking; creating places that people want to be in, rather than briefly pass through. 

There is an opportunity for the challenges and insights presented by the Covid-19 crisis to put sustainable, low carbon measures at the heart of a green recovery. To ensure our towns and cities are safer, more inclusive, and more sustainable.

Find out more about the benefits of active travel and how you can keep the #WheelsInMotion.

– – –

Daisy Narayanan is the Director of Urbanism for Sustrans, where her role involves interweaving policy, public realm design and a broad integration of key place principles to help create liveable towns and cities.

Sponsored By Supporting Scotland's Towns