Domestication Will Shape Future Public Spaces A Report from Rotterdam
This commentary aims to provide a window on the future by studying actions, taken to control the spreading of the coronavirus, while obviously affecting public space over a year. What have been the effects on public space directly linked to these actions during the pandemic; what values play a role, and what can we expect for the future? We have seen how immediate responses induced by the COVID-19 crisis influences traveling, gathering, and public life in general. Now, it is time to look further. Having a base-point in Rotterdam and taking The Netherlands as an example, the commentary argues that some shifts in using, appropriating, and experiencing public space will remain. Yet, mainly those not just being immediate responses to sudden societal change, rather those which are embedded in long-term change.
2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic! new publication of The Journal of Public Space
The Journal of Public Space published ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic’. This monumental publication of 280 pages witnesses the year we all lived on social distance dictated by COVID-19 health emergency, a measurement severely affected everyone’s access to public space and with it creating a range of impacts on different levels. Delft University of Technology, as a worldwide recognised leader in the field of urban design and public space, united with more than twenty universities globally to question; how can we face this unprecedented emergency and get prepared to its consequences, with specific regard to health disparity? Will public space restrictions stay in place after the recovery period? Should we just aim to return to a pre-COVID status quo, or for a ‘better normal’? And more generally, what will be the future of public space?
Maurice Harteveld, part of the scientific board, remembers how the situation induced by the COVID-19 crisis in early 2020 immediately brought together the global community of experts on the Design of Public Space; “I remember how the alarm bells didn’t stop anymore in the third week of April. Health situation worsened progressively in China, and a new decree imposing quarantine became in act in Northern Italy. Public space was abandoned there. Without doubt, we started to share local insights and form a global perspective on the issues arising from the pandemic for public space the current situation of public space.” Together with UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, this became an opportunity to collaborate to re-think how cities should be.
As the pandemic was moving across different continents and urban conditions, through shared online initiative public space experts across the world exchanged experiences of care, solidarity, entrepreneurship, academic perspectives, artistic interpretations, and creative practices of human resilience, engaging more than 100 speakers during 20 webinars from May to September 2020, and more than 2,700 registered attendees from over 80 countries, including representatives from UNHabitat. Global impact of the online initiative ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic’ has been even broader by counting more than 72,000 page views in that same period. This publication encapsulates key learnings globally from the early stage of the pandemic, which stand relevant to this day when we face squarely the same issues as we step into gradually and navigate the post-COVID era.
The United Nations just launched the ‘UN-Habitat State of the World Cities Report 2020 on the Value of Sustainable Urbanization‘. “COVID-19 has transformed our urban world. However, it does not signify the end of cities. Urban areas hold the key to resilient, green recovery, and building back better!”, Victor Kisob, th assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat states. The United Nations emphasises that we create “value through public space”. This includes interior public spaces, which were closed due to COVID19-induced lockdowns recently. In this case, “local governments must work to provide sanitation infrastructure in all public spaces in order to mitigate the health risk”. Yet, also, “when designed with climate adaptation, mitigation and resiliency, components of cities from buildings to public spaces can create communities that enhance environmental values”. They also enhance social and economic values. “Cities can unlock the intangible value of sustainable urbanization by creating public spaces and opportunities for democratic participation and social inclusion that allow the cultural fabric of urban life to flourish”. And, public space can offer a livelihood for people to be entrepreneurial and take part of labour work. Equality plays a huge role in sustainable urbanisation. “Diversity contributes to the social, economic and environmental value of urbanization through tolerance, integration, and coming together in public spaces.” This includes for instance the representation of the urban poor, migrants, and cultural minorities, hence this should lead to prioritising “their needs in any decision-making process, be it about the urban commons, atmospheric commons, public spaces or resource use”. And, “engage a wider audience – e.g. children and youth – in urban planning and design processes for safe, inclusive and accessible public space.” Everyone should “understand their rights to access public spaces and services”. I would like to add: Our challenge is to contribute to the design of public spaces for everyone.
TU Delft Joins ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic’
Social distance dictated by COVID-19 health emergency affects access to public space and with it creating a range of impacts on different levels. While global lockdown is destabilizing economy and challenging country leaders, at the human level the pandemic is generating isolation and loneliness, with a significant raise of helplessness and fear. Everyone is asked to stay home and rearrange daily routines and work activities in indoor domestic spaces, looking at the world from behind a window. People are dying alone, numbers are increasingly high. Outdoor physical activities are no longer allowed. Many governments seem to lack proper strategies to manage the risk of massive contagion. In the Global South the poor living in informal settlements have scarce access to water, washing hands could be dangerously impossible.
What is the future of public space? How can we face this unprecedented emergency and get prepared to its consequences, in specific regard to health disparity? Will public space restrictions stay in place after recovering from the pandemic?
Is there something we can do now all, together? Delft University of Technology, a worldwide recognised leader in the field of urban design and public space, unites with more than twenty universities globally in the ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic’ initiative. DDfV researcher Maurice Harteveld explains:
“We observe differences in behaviour in public space under the current circumstances. Differences that relate to different societal and personal priorities based on different social and personal values. Altered patterns in our cities are updating the way human behaviour informs urban design, hence the design of public space, but foremost the emerging differentiation in values effect in the design choices we are making in the near future.”
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