The existential emergencies we face require a wholesale reimagining of how we live, work and play in urban spaces

Tower Works, Leeds.
Tower Works, Leeds. ‘We should be using public investment to build a network of new parks with playgrounds and sport and leisure facilities on underdeveloped sites in the city centre.’ Photograph: Paul Leach/Alamy Stock

It’s  often been said that we’re living through an unprecedented moment. But in city centres, the coronavirus crisis has merely accelerated trendsthat have been unfolding for some time. In Leeds, where I live, many major banks and building societies, cinemas, shops and department stores declined or disappeared as society shifted online. The pandemic has caused the job market to contract, and many more people are now working from home. But in cities across the country, traditional office spaces have long been shrinking, as technology reduces the need for face-to-face contact and a growing number of self-employed people opt for co-working spaces.Despite the economic boom that some UK cities have experienced in the last 20 years, the centre of Leeds, like many other city centres, has not yet recovered from industrial decline. Vacated banking halls have supplied glamorous homes for bars and restaurants in regeneration areas, and housing has returned to the centre, albeit in the limited form of small apartments and poorly designed student accommodation. But the continuing trend of “meanwhile use” and sprawling ground-level car parks across the city are evidence that supply still exceeds demand.