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.

Public Spaces for Domestic & Local Life

While the ‘UN-Habitat State of the World Cities Report 2020 on the Value of Sustainable Urbanization’ has been launched, the international symposium ‘2020 A Year Without Public Space: Reflection and Outlook’ has been an opportunity to look back, reflect, and plan ahead for 2021.

The transcription of the closing remarks of Maurice Harteveld at our initiative ‘2020 a year without public space under the COVID-19 pandemic’, including reflections and an outlook beyond (online symposium on 7 November 2020, 3PM (+ 8UTC)):

2020 – A Year without Public Space has been an impressive initiative. We have seen 20 webinars, engaging more than 100 speakers all over the world, and over another thousand attendees watching the presentations and thematic discussions live. On the YouTube channel, we can see that the numbers of views continuously grow. From May to September; the global community of ‘public space’- experts have joined together. The networks of public spaces have become a world-wide-web. Non-Exclusive!

At the moment, we are online, but our concerns are at the human space, in its physical reality. We keep sharing our observations, in an immense challenge. It is not easy! Under the current pandemic crisis, the global death rate is approaching 1.5 million people; 50 million cases of positive testing. An extremely small minority of countries have not reported any coronavirus cases. Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu seem to be still on the safe side. In contrast, particularly, communities in urbanised areas are infected at large. LA, Miami, and New York City… Rio, and Sao Paulo. Here densities are higher, people live closer together, and thus, transmission may go too fast, & too easy.

My contribution to the round table discussion is not another presentation. Deliberately! Continue reading

Creating Impact for a Better Society

At its 178th Dies Natalis celebration, the Delft University of Technology has announced to remove the boundaries between the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities to cope with big societal challenges. The energy, mobility and resource transitions, increasing urbanisation and populations, and changes in demography need convergence: the integration of sciences in order to accelerate research and generate revolutionary outcomes. Manifold and intertwined problems that come along will be solved by pooling scientific resources if we collaborate in entirely new ways. Delft University of Technology will create a network of living labs, where science and innovation can be put into practice and tested in Rotterdam. Delft is doing this together with Erasmus University Rotterdam and Leiden University, with industry and government.

Design has evolved from largely being product centred through being more user-centred to now becoming human or society centred […] Technology is never neutral, which is why we have to be aware of its implication very early on in its development, in its design phase. Today we are focussing on that particular aspect. Making design choices which do justice to our moral and social values. And, I believe this is a key element for achieving our mission ‘to create impact for a better society’.

For example, more shared and self-driving vehicles will require fewer parking spaces. That results in more public space and greenery, which in turn improves air quality and biodiversity. Moreover, vegetation can serve as water storage, and reduce heat stress due to climate change. Furthermore, if we design those public spaces to encourage walking and cycling, this will stimulate a healthy lifestyle and lead to a better quality of life.

Tim van der Hagen, rector magnificus and president of the university

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Living Labs in the City

In trans-disciplinary urban challenges, the application of ‘a living lab’ plays a central role. A pioneering model has emerged in our design of the Master programme Metropolitan Analysis, Design and Engineering. Currently, others follow this model and the idea of the urban living lab seems attractive. “It enables us to get to a feasible solution more quickly”, I am explaining in the magazine ‘Home of Innovation’. Students work with all stakeholders on a problem with lots of unanswered questions. The keyword here is ‘co-creation’: collaboration is key at all stages of learning. “No single actor can make metropoles move in a specific direction”, I’ve elaborated: “Metropolitan solutions require cooperation between knowledge experts, as well as between city, citizens and civil society.”

Read more in an interview with me by Jurjen Slump:
Living Labs play a Central Role in Master’s Degree Programme – Education: Master Programme Metropolitan Analysis, Design and Engineering, In: Home of Innovation, special January 2019, pp. 18-19

Architecture and the City

The Architecture and the City: Public Realm/Public Building research group of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology focuses on questions regarding the mutual relationship between the city and its public realm. This is a relationship that can only be considered in socio-cultural and economic context. The idea of the public realm here refers to an intermediate ‘space’, which facilitates and mediates between different groups of inhabitants and individuals; the idea of the public realm as the space of (ex)change of ideas, opinions and beliefs of the different groups of users. Therefore, the architecture of the city and its actual qualities form the main framework of this research. Within this context urban blocks, as interface between architecture and urban design, and public buildings are seen as crucial architectural elements. Their functioning and organisation are physically, symbolically, socially and economically fundamental to the city. As such they form a domain both of architectural convention and experimentation. In terms of research and design methods architectural typology, typo-morphology and research-by-design hold a central position in our group’s approach.

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Design Sessions on Public Space

The Design Sessions on Public Space (In Dutch: Ontwerpsessies Openbare Ruimte ‘OOR 2006’) as organised in Delft from 21-23 February 2006 have been part of a series of seven workshops all over The Netherlands. The design for public space is central in all workshops. Urban designers, landscape architects and traffic designers, both students and professionals, have met and worked together. In Delft, green areas in the east of the city has been repositioned with respect to the urban public spaces and the highway A13 has been reconsidred as urban design thus a public space too. As such, interdisciplinary participants proposed improvements for the entire network, conceptually and with exemplary details in projects. Exploratory visions on the urban network of public spaces and related redesigns, connecting the different parts of the city and all their qualities, showcase a potential future for the city of Delft in refreshing and unrestrained ways!

The workshop in Delft has been a collaboration between Polis – Podium for Urbanism, Vereniging Stadswerk Nederland, the Urban Development Department of the Municipality of Delft and the chair of Urban Design at Delft University of Technology.