Nature, public space and local are the new attractors, finds a new report by Neighbourlytics which unpacks digital and social data to understand how the pandemic is reshaping our places.
As our physical footprints are replaced with digital ones, Neighbourlytics cofounders Lucinda Hartley and Jessica Christiansen-Franks have taken a deep dive into data to understand how the pandemic is reshaping our places.
Neighbourlytics extracted data from an eyewatering array of sources – from geo-located posts and tags to public social media posts to check-ins – to understand what makes neighbourhoods tick.
Activity has shifted online and become more localised in a trend that Hartley and Christiansen-Franks have dubbed “The New Local”.
“While we’ve spent decades focused on creating great city destinations, the evidence shows a shift away from destinations at the centre of cities as people retreat to local neighbourhoods,” says Hartley.
This isn’t a return to localism, the pair emphasise. It’s a new trend that city-shapers will need to consider for years to come.
“It’s easy to think that a residential neighbourhood is just a dormitory suburb. But now we are seeing that each place has a unique local story,” adds Christiansen-Franks.
What does The New Local look like? Just four of the characteristics are:
- Nature is the new attraction: People are seeking out natural space rather than streetscapes and urban spaces. Engagement with nature has increased against the baseline in all three cities: Melbourne (+112%), Sydney (+36%) and Brisbane (+17%). At the same time, engagement in public space is down in Melbourne (-50%), Sydney (-35%) and Brisbane (-7%). “With sport cancelled and playgrounds shut, people are not engaging with regular urban public spaces. Instead, they are taking the time to travel to nature,” Hartley explains.
- Hospitality starts at home: Hospitality businesses are typically the “glue” that helps people spend and stay in local neighbourhoods. Dining out has dropped, but people are connecting with hospitality in the home. While locked-down Melbourne’s 400 per cent increase in home cooking may be unsurprising, Brisbane recorded a 367 per cent increase.
- Creativity is personal, not public: People are turning away from creative and sporting events to connect with hobbies and craft instead. Engagement with hobbies has increased by 21 per cent in Brisbane, 65 per cent in Melbourne and a massive 142 per cent in Sydney. “Activities have turned inside, making destinations and neighbourhoods that have built their local economic ecosystem on creative industries particularly vulnerable,” Christiansen-Franks explains.
- Digital and physical worlds merge: The report finds that the digital and physical worlds have merged, as citizens engage with their local neighbourhoods through digital devices, challenging businesses and regions with lower levels of digital maturity. “Even local cafés will be more successful if they have a digital following as well as a physical following,” Hartley says.
Christiansen-Franks says the data demonstrates that people continue to engage with their cities, but how they do “has changed shape”.
“People are still showing attachment to culinary and creative experiences, for example. They are just doing it in their own homes.
But the impact of COVID-19 on neighbourhoods has been “asymmetrical”, with those reliant on hospitality or creative industries as a main economic pillar particularly vulnerable, she says.
Christiansen-Franks says the report can support city-makers, developers and planners with decision-making on the road to recovery.
“Every local neighbourhood has a local story, and Australians have discovered this over the last few months.” The challenge is to “listen locally, understand the special value proposition of local places and tap into that,” Christiansen-Franks advises.
The report suggests a “nuanced approach to recovery” is required, Hartley adds.
“Our data highlights how neighbourhoods have been asymmetrically affected by the pandemic, so a ‘one size fits all’ approach to recovery won’t work.
“It’s easy to focus on shiny blockbuster projects, like stadiums, but the behavioural data shows us that we will be better off if we diversify our efforts across a lot of small local centres.”