[Re]Thinking Cities

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.

Download full issue here

Matter – Space – Change

When reasoning our material world emerged in cities, ‘matter’ was first to question. This is obviously what we see and what we can handle. This shapes our urban environment. Yet, in an arcadian search for beginning, origin, or first cause the lens was put on finding primordial substance; ‘arché’ (oersubstantie, urstoff, …). This informed the search to actuating principles (as a cause) in Aristotle. The subsequent cosmic search towards the genesis and structure of our world introduced the concept of a material substratum, an interval considered to be invisible and unshaped: ‘khôra’, chora, or space. The territory of the Ancient Greek polis outside the city proper. In Politeía, Plato relates it to the just city and just (hu)man. In these pioneering thoughts, public space is found. Continuously echoing today in understanding chora as a place of being a being or mediating between sensible and intelligible, it also introduced change… Public space isn’t static. People move, societies transform, humans age, generations follow…. This effects our thinking on public space.

Who owns the public space?

Join the online symposium ‘Matter – Space – Change’ on 23 April 2021.

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Watching back, Looking forward

All webinars of the ‘2020 a year without public space under the COVID-19 pandemic’ are online.


The Impact of the Pandemic to Street Life, Urban Culture and Beyond
Webinar 4.1 by Maurice Harteveld, published by ‘PublicSpace COVID19’ on YouTube.


Roundtable Discussion and Closing Remarks, as published by ‘PublicSpace COVID19’ on YouTube.

See the transcription of the closing remarks of Maurice Harteveld, including reflections and an outlook beyond, here: Public Spaces for Domestic & Local Life, a slightly adjusted transcription of the opening of the august series of our initiative here: Beyond the Pandemic and read more on the initiative 2020 a year without public space under the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Beyond the Pandemic

The Impact of the Pandemic to Street Life, Urban Culture and Beyond.
Maurice Harteveld, co-host and moderator of the roundtable discussion with speakers from the Netherlands, from Greece, from France, and from the United States.

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Designs for Boston and Amsterdam

Propositions under Continuously Changing Urban Conditions

Massive urbanisation puts pressure on public space and demands new programmes along with alternative gathering places such as public interior spaces and a variety of forms of collective spaces. Moreover, in the rapidly changing city, infrastructure and mobility remain of vital importance. A co-evolving diversity of programme cannot be planned, but interventions in the city need constantly to be grounded on sharp design approaches to respond adequately to the necessities of the time: While being environmentally sustainable, given the available resources.

In general, infrastructure, mobility, and public life manifest themselves in various forms as carriers of such urban development. Design experiments, as put forward in our new book, show how to work with continuously changing urban conditions, with mobility transforming cities whilst with public spaces taking various forms, with programmes which hybridise, and with new technologies to keep up with the urban dynamics. Given these themes, designs should carry awareness of the inclusiveness and accessibility of various systems and places, facilities, and technologies. Spatially this means questioning how to keep the city open and connected, attractive, and liveable?
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The Impact of the Pandemic to Street Life, Urban Culture and Beyond

We have seen a growing number of people have been hospitalised per day, and people passed away. Both followed the bell curve. Every country faced critical moments when hospitalised totals stressed the capacity of medical care. The uncertainty among the populations grew in that period. Particularly, the impact of the pandemic to street life became visible in those days. Cities locked down, people stayed at home, and shifts in urban culture became visible. Can we place those changes in a longer perspective? Looking back to what happened before, and forecasting what most likely happens beyond 2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The Impact of the Pandemic to Street Life, Urban Culture and Beyond

Image created by Catherine Cordasco.
Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Join the webinar!
When: Thursday, August 6, 2.00 – 3.30pm CET
> Registration

This webinar is part of the initiative ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic‘.
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Democratic, Inclusive, Agential Cities


This article highlights the dynamics of values in our reasoning on public space. By means of an epistemological study, illustrated by examples in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, it tests the contemporary premises underlying our ways to safeguard the inclusive, democratic, agential city, and, as such, it aims to update our view on public space. The article raises three subsequent main questions: [i] Is the city our common house as perceived from the Renaissance onward, containing all, and consequently are public spaces used by the people as a whole? [ii] Is the city formalising our municipal autonomy as emphasised since the Enlightenment, in an anti-egoistic manner, and in this line, are public spaces owned by local governments representing the people? And, [iii] is the city open to our general view as advocated in Modern reasoning, restricting entrepreneurial influences, and synchronically, is its public spaces seen and/or known by everyone? – Inclusiveness, democracy, and agentiality are strongholds in our scientific thinking on public space and each issue echoes through in an aim to keep cities connected and accessible, fair and vital, and open and social. Yet, conflicts appear between generally-accepted definitions and what we see in the city. Primarily based upon confronting philosophy with the Amsterdam case for this matter, the answering of questions generates remarks on this aim. Contemporary Western illuminations on pro-active citizens, participatory societies, and effects of among others global travel, migration, social media and micro-blogging forecast a more differentiated image of public space and surmise to enforce diversification in our value framework in urban theory and praxis.

Read full article online:
Harteveld, Maurice (2019) ‘Reviewing Premises on Public Spaces in Democratic, Inclusive, Agential Cities, illustrated by Amsterdam’, In: The Journal of Public Space, 2019, Volume 4, Number 2, pp. 123-143

The Journal of Public Space is open access, contents are freely accessible under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY NC).

For the full issue: Vol. 4 n. 2 | 2019 | FULL ISSUE

Editors: Maurice Harteveld and Hendrik Tieben
Managing Editor: Luisa Bravo
Publisher: City Space Architecture / UN-Habitat