Return to the Roaring Twenties: City Life after Covid-19

Return to the Roaring Twenties: City Life after Covid-19

Alexander Lewis

Partner, Consultancy

Arguably the most noticeable effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has been its impact on cities. As central hubs that thrive on large volumes of people they seem to be the antithesis of ‘Covid-friendly’. Yet while the country house market is undeniably booming, will people continue to run, quite literally for the hills? According to Knight Frank Partner and Prime Central London development specialist Alexander Lewis, Covid has conversely highlighted just how amazing our European cities really are.

“If I could be anywhere right now where would I want to be?” Lewis muses. “I'd love to be sitting in a busy café in the springtime sun of Paris watching the world go by. It’s one of life’s great pleasures. It’s the simple things that we previously took for granted that people have really missed. These simple pleasures that rely on human energy and interaction are now more valuable than ever. The city is so precious to us and having it taken from us by Covid has really highlighted this.”

I'd love to be sitting in a busy café in the springtime sun of Paris watching the world go by. It’s one of life’s great pleasures.

Alexander Lewis

This idea is supported by the Knight Frank Global Development Report 2020, which found that out of 160 global developers, the majority are still looking to develop in cities, opposed to rural locations and second homes. Wellbeing, outdoor space and a move towards sustainability within residences is also at the forefront of developers plans, with 54% of respondents stating that they are more like to consider outdoor space within developments, and 38% are more likely to consider facilities for bicycles.

Yet, with so much having changed in the past year, including the rise of flexible working for the majority of office jobs and a universal desire for more indoor and outdoor space, one question remains to be answered: what is the future of our cities? Lewis reveals his initial thoughts:

“I think it's too early to really draw any definite conclusions about what the post-Covid world will look like. There's all sorts of speculation, varying from those that say the world is going to be completely different with the ‘new normal’ theory, to those who say everything is going to go back to being the way it was. What lockdown has done universally is to throw into sharp focus where and how we live. And for many, it may have challenged previously held notions and what people are willing to tolerate in day-to-day. Life is precious, not just because of Covid, but because when you are stuck at home with your thoughts, you have time to consider what really matters to you and how you want to spend your time.”

With city traffic responsible for 70% of global carbon emissions, sustainability has become the zeitgeist of the last few years when talking about urban residential developments.

“Sustainability has never been more important for our cities,” says Lewis. “But when we talk about sustainability, we should also be thinking about it in reference to the individual. Does my city offer a sustainable lifestyle in terms of both my physical and mental health? Is it a 15-minute city with green open spaces, safe neighbourhoods, good schools, an open culture, and of course, great entertainment?”

“Sustainability also means longevity,” Lewis continues. “People need cities that not only offer a great lifestyle, but also a place they can grow into, a place they can picture raising a family. Barcelona is a shining example, with its clean air initiatives and the gradual removal of cars making it a healthy place to live, while also having this fabulous outdoor culture and of course the coast.”

After so long at home, and such a prolonged period of uncertainty, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many people have got itchy feet when it comes to both travelling and moving house. The various lockdowns around the world have been a catalyst for many to assess their living environments, and ask themselves the question, ‘do I actually like living here? Or do I live here out of convenience?’ With dynamic working options now on the table for many, the barrier to a more aspirational existence has been lifted according to Lewis:

“I think people who have been sitting on the fence regarding property decisions will now act. This is certainly what we are seeing on the ground in London. The pandemic has been, above all, a stark reminder of our mortality, and people coming out of it on the other side will want to push forwards with their lives and live them to the full. Covid I think will engender a 'screw it, do it' attitude in many.

“Fundamentally, we’re all craving excitement – and there is no better place for that than our European cities in my opinion. I think there will be a lot of people out there who want to embrace city life following a year of sensory deprivation. Cities offer great café culture, with street markets, and people, just real life happening on every corner – all the things we’ve missed. This will apply at all levels of the market: from young new city dwellers buying into major regeneration areas to UHNWIs buying into the best branded residences and the unrivalled services they offer.”

According to Lewis, Europe’s cities will also be targeted by investors, especially those experiencing or expecting regeneration. “I think we’re going to see investors wanting to diversify their asset classes, part of which may include investing in real estate in a European city, especially in places where value is perceived. Places like Bucharest, Milan and Porto are really on the radar as ones to watch, as major cities that may offer outperformance, especially in a low interest rate and potentially inflationary environment. Property offers good returns and safe-haven status. Investors will have their eye on some of the European property success stories of recent years such as Amsterdam and will be speculating as to where the next one might be.”

So with pent-up demand, new homes that cater to modern wellbeing and environmental needs, a go-getting post-Covid sentiment, and of course, all the culture, history and lively delights of our favourite European cities waiting for us, it’s really just confidence that we’re waiting for now – something which is slowly but surely returning to the market. Lewis believes that what we’ll experience will be a long-awaited celebration of our metropolitan environments:

“During lockdown, you stood back and you looked at the empty city you lived or worked in – for me I’m talking about London – and you realised just how amazing it is. How much it contributed to your life. And how much you have taken it for granted.

“I think that for many having been cooped up for a year and coming into spring, the outdoor culture and climate in Europe will appeal more than ever, where Covid permits.

“When we’re truly out of this the other side and we can get back to city life,” Lewis concludes, “you’d better brace yourself. There’s going to be on hell of a party.”

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