Post-Pandemic Public Spaces

Over the past year and a half, we have attempted to identify and describe the influence the pandemic has had on our public spaces and how this has inspired new ideas for the future thereof. Through research, surveys, and interviews which are presented in a documentary, we managed to document the excitement which was shown towards improving our public spaces during the pandemic. The pandemic has underlined and accelerated the need for change in our public spaces, consequently, this documentary is more relevant than ever. People tend to get used to life easily and revert to old habits. We hope that through this documentary we have a medium to hold on to that reminds us of the importance of our public spaces and the wake-up call we had during the pandemic.

This documentary is part of the research of the Design of the Public Space Research Group, led by  Maurice Harteveld, within the department of Urbanism at TU Delft. Post-Pandemic Public Spaces is about the future of our public spaces and was filmed and produced by Matt van Kessel, Hanlin Stuer, and Olivier Wiegerinck as part of their Bachelor Honours Programme.

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PPPS Episodes

Post-Pandemic Public Spaces is about the future of our public spaces and was filmed and produced by Matt van Kessel, Hanlin Stuer, and Olivier Wiegerinck as part of their Bachelor Honours Programme, under the supervision of Maurice Harteveld, Claudiu Forgaci, Birgit Hausleitner of the Design of the Public Space Research Group, within the department of Urbanism at TU Delft.

List of episodes Post-Pandemic Public Spaces

The first episode of the documentary Post-Pandemic Public Spaces ‘Challenges’ introduces expected paradigmatic shifts caused by the situation induced by the COVID-19 crisis. It extends the discussion on public space, which has been about making cities more sustainable and liveable while working with major transitions. During the pandemic, health has been challenged in addition. Also, new ways of using public space have become manifest. This exposes different claims. Can we continue to use public spaces as we did? Are we reverting to our old behaviour? Do we realise how important public space is? In conjecture with the challenges that already emerged before the crisis, we can question if we shouldn’t reduce traffic, for example, and kick-off from our car addiction? New challenges have an effect on the size, accessibility, and quality of the public spaces and, together with changing human needs, its presence and design remain to be essential in the future.

The second episode ‘Design’ dives further into the challenges in the post-pandemic era and it illuminates possible design solutions. The documentary searches for approaches in which the design of public spaces can be updated and improved. It also questions if there is any one-size-fits-all public space at all. Depending on how and if people can get there, public space are very different as are people. Not all spaces are equally attractive and safe to stay in. From a different angle we may question; who is touched by which place, and how. Differences have become very clear during the pandemics and awareness on this has risen. Public space is also no longer static, but constantly adaptive to new needs. How can we design for this? Can we design for flexibility? Can we release physical design; if so, to what extend? The increasing need for green space is also exemplary for the post-pandemic era; partly grown out of necessity for health reasons, recreational purposes, or simply a lack of space in the house. We will have to design green spaces as a new quiet place, and for outdoor activities like sports, online connectivity in public, and/or just natural climate-adaptive space at the same time.

The third episode ‘Mobility’ follows up on the discussed new ways to approach the design of public spaces and it shines particularly the light on the changing mobility patterns. This includes general strategies to remove cars and give space back to the residents. Yet, induced by the COVID-19 crisis, these approaches move to a shift in commuting patterns: Will people keep working from home? Do they want to spend an hour in the car or on the train for four or five days when there is an alternative in the remote office and on-distance work? Other travel needs emerge, depending on the needs and desires of the different social groups. The pandemic influenced public transport. Many people feared this mode. Trust will have to be regained in order to make mobility more sustainable by traditional means. New forms of individual transport have taken off in addition. Think of micro-mobility, like shared scooters. Thus multi-modal chain mobility seems to increase in importance. The concept of the 15-minute city, in which living and working hybridise and facilities and amenities are nearby, also seems to have made a breakthrough too. Places and mobility are being brought together, in the words of Lior Steinberg. This may resemble the Dutch-rooted idea of neighborhood thought (‘wijkgedachte’), making cities fairly democratic: Everyone uses similar modes of transport; bike use as examplars for the world. Still, also in the Dutch city, pedestrian traffic and social safety need to be improved.

The fourth episode of the series presents the topic ‘Inequality’. In line with last episode, it is important to remember how mobility relates to (in)equality. The measurements taken during COVID-19 outbreak, like social distancing and staying home, has shown once more that not everyone has the same pattern, can have the same pattern, and/or is able to have equal patterns. Public spaces in different neighbourhoods have different qualities. The pandemic has shown that not everyone lives under the same conditions. Not everyone has access to equal public spaces. There is, for example, not always shaded space near the house. Places for stay in general and distances to recreational (green) spaces can differ greatly, as is the safety along the routes not equal. Power structures and distribution of resources, if we define public space along these lines, are unequal almost by definition, and thus access abilities and agency is diverse. This, generates questions: How can we realise a more inclusive network of public space? How can we create a human space, lively at the street level? What public amenities and facilities should we include? Is privately-owned public space a (fair) solution? Can we create common spaces on the roof, for example? What needs to be done in different neighborhoods to contribute to a just city?

The fifth episode presents ‘Behaviour’. With the interviewees, the discussion on inequality is stretched to people’s behaviour in the public space. How has it changed during and after the pandemics and did their perceptions of public spaces change along? City beaches and parks have become popular, while the lack of outdoor terraces, restaurants, or discos has been manifest. Measurements taken during the pandemic have forced a change in our behaviour. While social distancing will be abandoned and masks in general, we seem to have become aware of human vulnerability. Public health will be related to public space again. What more will stay in the future? A lot of people have canceled their sports club subscriptions. Everyone is training outside now. It’s really nice to see all those active people, says Annemieke Fontein; but at the same time, it also takes up space and changes the nature of parks as designed for quiet relaxation. Also in other forms, we can see that the need for connection, and in particular for encounters and meetings, in public spaces has grown. Yet whereas online presence continues to grow, thus new networks emerge and ways to meet change, thus place to meet also change. Communities gather in a wide variety of public spaces. Are new bubbles emerging? When will people come together as a whole? The culture of a place; and of a city will change and develop. Appreciating public space as a daily life environment in the Netherlands has one of the positive outcomes of the pandemics.

The sixth episode of ‘Post-Pandemic Public Spaces’ is the last chapter of the series. The previous five episodes have explored the future of our public spaces. At the end of each episode, key factors are summarised. This final episode concludes the journey by bringing together important lessons learned and setting the agenda for the future design of the public space. Enjoy the ‘Conclusion’!

This documentary is part of the research of the Design of the Public Space Research group, department of Urbanism at TU Delft.