A flight to the suburbs from the mephitic squalor of the city is a cyclical phenomenon. While my parents’ post-war generation moved gratefully from bombed-out cities to suburban houses with gardens, their bored children longed for the edgy glamour of city life. Our own children, in turn, began to re-embrace suburbia, driven out by city property prices. Now estate agents report that the trend is gathering momentum, thanks to the contrast between urban and suburban lockdown: the former cramped and stifling, the latter replete with gardens, home offices and thriving local amenities.
What future, then, for the hearts of our great cities? While the demand for towering glass skyscrapers may be falling (a turn of events unmourned by those of us who cherish London’s skyline), the dire predictions of economic meltdown and headlong decline are surely not inevitable. A nimble grasp of the unprecedented opportunities for change might consider the idea – already adopted in Melbourne, Copenhagen, Paris and Utrecht – of the 15-minute city, with homes, work, school, shops and leisure amenities all within walking distance.
In London, a city of neighbourhoods with their own distinct character, the framework already exists for a new kind of city living: neither urban nor suburban, but drawing on the best of both for a future in which life and work no longer occupy separate realms.