Fostering greener and healthier lifestyles in cities

Bike leaning against wall

During the lockdown, the social distancing and the disruption of international transport, made us realise the importance of a well organised public space, with walking/biking space, but also easy access to food, products and services. Some cities and regional governments took the occasion to make much needed improvements to their urban environment while fostering healthier habits!

Greener urban mobility

The Department of Sustainable Mobility and Public Transport Infrastructures of Valencia’s City Council, for example, has carried out some major measures for the reorganization of public space. The city set up the pedestrianization of the main square ‘Plaza del Ayuntamiento’ and the rearrangement of Colón street, one of the most commercial and busy streets in Valencia. These actions have also involved the optimization of the city's public bus network.

Other cities have been rethinking their urban mobility system. Milan, one of the most polluted cities in Italy, located in the Italian region most affected by the COVID crisis, has announced that it will implement an ambitious sustainable mobility plan to reduce car use after the lockdown. Over the summer, 35 km of streets will be transformed with a citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to ensure physical distancing of people.

In the Wallonia region (Belgium), the Minister for Mobility had set up a task force to boost teleworking after the crisis: "if we reduce the number of cars by 25%, we no longer have traffic jams and we reduce CO2 emissions". "Teleworking must become more important. It has great potential to solve mobility problems”. (Article in French)

Plaza del Ayuntamiento - Credits: Municipality of Valencia
Plaza del Ayuntamiento - Credits: Municipality of Valencia

Supporting the local economy and nurturing sustainable habits

As a consequence of the efforts made by cities and the safety restrictions during the COVID crisis, some citizens have adopted more sustainable lifestyles such as consuming more locally produced food, moving by bike or by foot. Additionally, the news on the regeneration of our planet due to the reduction of economic activities fostered reflections among citizens and raised awareness on the need to reduce pollution.

How can cities help their inhabitants keeping these newly found healthy & sustainable habits? It is important to continue communicating about the benefits and values of supporting the local food system, sustainable mobility and greener lifestyle choices. As shared by one of the pilot cities of TOMORROW: “After the crisis is over, we will have to adapt the message delivered to the different stakeholders and find new ways to communicate about the adaptation to climate change”. At the same time, governments, local authorities and other institutions should set the right priorities and continue supporting small enterprises, cooperatives and local food producers.

COVID-19 pandemic has made the environmentally disruptive, socially unjust and inefficient patterns of our societies more visible to the world. In this unprecedented time, we have the opportunity to reflect and act on how we can build a new city together. Even though certain governments took positive steps in the right direction, there is the need for additional efforts to have greener and more liveable urban environments! 

This blog is part of a series of energy diaries, tracing the TOMORROW pilot-cities around Europe to learn about roadmaps for decarbonisation.