We were out filming at 4am the other morning for our “And If Not Now, When?” project. The plan was to capture car-free streets. However, the vehicles had been replaced by seagulls, pigeons and a fox fighting over last night’s KFC. Not really what we were after.

And If Not Now, When?

Over many years designing sound in public spaces, I have been struck by the fact that the greater part of our urban highways are given over to the few occupants of private vehicles, most of whom are driving the equivalent distance of an easy walk. Meanwhile, everyone else, the vast majority of urban dwellers, are crammed onto narrow pavements and into gutters, negotiating parked cars, wheelie bins and street furniture. So accustomed are we to this situation that we barely notice the intrusion and take the indignity for granted.

During the initial stages of lockdown, we witnessed events that would have been considered fantastical at any other time; wild animals roaming urban centres, skies in colours more vivid than any seen in our lifetime, and a chorus of previously unheard sounds. Our experience of the pandemic has demonstrated that a new way of living is possible and what this might be like.

Given this knowledge, do we want to go back to where we were before the pandemic or do we want to use what we have learned to create a different urban reality.

And if not now, when?