Health is an important societal topic in the Netherlands. In one of the most densely populated countries in the world, healthy living environments reduce diseases, deaths, healthcare costs, and shifts focus from prevention and medicalising on the individual levels to taking care of communities. Still, for example, the air quality in the Netherlands is considered moderately unsafe, resulting in the highest rate of asthmatic children worldwide. The same goes for recordings of diseases related to polluting substances on land and in water. This makes public spaces social determinants of public health. We see similar correlations when it comes to the presence of infectious microbes and parasites, and environmental stress. Especially in world port-cities like Rotterdam unhealthy conditions coincide with unequal socio-spatial patterns. Here the impact on individual health is largely untraceable. Understanding the impact of inherent industrial and human activities on urban areas at the neighbourhood level and crossing it with heterogeneous data sets help us understand the socio-spatial impact of pollution-related and vector-borne diseases on cities. Measuring environmental pollution in public spaces can tell us e.g. more about the impact of air quality on citizens as a group. Statistical time series and cross-sectional data analyses can be applied to generate valid correlations if they are made geo-specific. By using machine learning and AI technologies we cross data on environmental pollution with other heterogenous socio-spatial and temporal data sets. The use of mapping, spatial statistics, and urban narratives including historical data can lead to a better understanding of the lived experience at the local level. Through workshops at the local level and notably in the public spaces of the city, we engage the general public and local decision-makers in discussions on public health using advanced computer models for visualisation. The Rotterdam case study provides insights applicable in other cities internationally.
Exhibition ‘What have we learned?’
Preview on Post-Pandemic Public Spaces
How do you think our the design of public space, thus our cities, will change under influence of the pandemic? The answering of this question has been explored in nine engaging interviews with representatives of the Dutch practice and presented in a documentary. Key players in urban design, at the municipality, active in city-making, and/or working in the public domain differently have given their views. In addition, this question has been leading in a survey given to undergraduates and graduate students of our faculty, as well as to a few students in other programmes concerned with the public space (like human geography and planning, urban studies, and metropolitan analysis design engineering). Stimulated by innovation and creative thinking, a vast majority wants to explore new directions, against those preferring ‘back to normal’.
The documentary is made by Matt van Kessel, Hanlin Stuer, and Olivier Wiegerinck, embedded in the research group on public space of Maurice Harteveld, Birgit Hausleitner, Claudiu Forgaci, Tanja Herdt and Ioanna Karadimitriou. A preview of the documentary is presented on the large screen at the exhibition ‘What have we learned?’, on display during the month of September 2021, in Delft. Please feel welcome to have a break, and watch!
Delft University of Technology
Faculty of Architecture
2628 BL Delft
Deserted public space in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Image by Maurice Harteveld.
“After working from home for more than five hundred days, our daily lives and rituals have been severely changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, social distancing and other measures have affected everyone’s access to public space and exposed a range of impacts on different levels. Researchers from more than twenty universities explore those impacts in the new open-access publication ‘2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic’.
The crisis in early 2020 immediately brought together the global community of experts on the design of public space. Maurice Harteveld (Urbanism) is part of the scientific board of the Journal of Public Space and distinctly remembers how the initiation of lockdown upon lockdown sparked debate: “Chief editor Luisa Bravo was already in lockdown in the north of Italy, another colleague soon followed in Hong Kong. The progressively worsening health situation led to images of abandoned public space. We started to share local insights, forming a global perspective on the issues arising from the pandemic for the current situation of public space. By connecting with UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, this became an opportunity to re-think how cities should be.”Deserted public space in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Image by Maurice Harteveld.
Health Disparity, Public Space Restrictions and the Future of Public Space
Shared online initiatives resulted in experts from across the world exchanging experiences of care, solidarity, entrepreneurship, academic perspectives, artistic interpretations, and creative practices of human resilience. The resulting key learnings from the early stage of the pandemic are encapsulated in the publication. The research addresses questions like how we can prepare for the consequences of this unprecedented emergency, particularly health disparity, but also addresses the impact of public space restrictions. More generally, the learnings reflect on what the future of public space might be.
At first glance, the challenges for each urban region might look different. Harteveld: “I vividly remember how Casper Chigama, a community developer from Zimbabwe gave an online presentation from his car, addressing how the local concerns there were about how social distancing might be achieved in the short term. But in the long term, pre-existing concerns on urban hygiene were the main challenge. Another colleague from New York City, Setha Low, mentioned how, even with urban hygiene relatively well organised, she still noticed disparity in access to qualitative public space between different population groups of the city.” In the end, the solutions to these challenges might lie within the same realm of making public space more recognisable on a local scale. People should not only have access to public space from their own homes, they should also be able to identify themselves with these places. “We stay closer to home, shown by trends like the increase of working from home and online shopping, and the consecutive decrease of commuting and going to the city centre,” explains Harteveld. “We clearly saw this in 2020, but the trend already emerges in the 1980s. Today, that means we need to be able to feel at home within the public space. As designers and planners of urban space, we can actively contribute to the detailing and programming of the public space to make such attachments possible.” Harteveld calls this the ‘domestication’ of public space. Fellow researchers observe the same, also at places where urban hygiene and inequality is of urgent concern. Josephine Mwongeli Malonza mentions for example how neighbourhood streets function as public space in Kimisange, Rwanda. The future of public space is local, equitably accessible, and very much an interesting and continuing challenge for urban designers, planners, legislators, and other city dwellers.”
The 500th day at home passed by on Monday 19 July, 2021
2020: A year without public space
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.
Read Open Access Article: Harteveld, Maurice (2020) “Domestication Will Shape Future Public Spaces”, The Journal of Public Space, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 53-66. doi: https://doi.org/10.32891/jps.v5i3.1379.
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
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.
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
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.
World Cities Report 2020
Wrapping up a challenging year with a final online 2-day symposium ‘2020 A Year Without Public Space: Reflections & Outlook’ to reflect and plan ahead for 2021, particularly in the aspects of Cities & Health, Digital Public Space, Innovative Approaches & Creative Practices, and Campus as Public Space.
2020 passes in a blink. COVID-19 completely changed our world, our work, our school, and our daily life routine. COVID-19 also changed the public space where we for the first time have to stay away with during global lockdown, spaces where we perhaps took for granted for joyous gatherings, block parties, after-school hangouts, parks where we share experiences, exchange a thought, bump into neighbours and colleagues, have become cold spaces for disseminating hygiene items and food supplies, testing cases, or otherwise deserted and fenced off. Yet, at the same time, new spaces emerge, bike lanes, pedestrianized zones, pop-up installations, eateries and street stalls have found their ways in many cities and administrations. Coming to the end of 2020, we feel that now it’s the time to look back, reflect, and plan ahead.
2020: A Year without Public Space under the COVID-19 Pandemic – Reflections & Outlook
6-7 November 2020
register at: www.publicspace-covid19.com
Please be welcome at one of the sessions on Day 1 and Day 2, and particularly to the roundtable discussion and closing remarks.
If the current period teaches us, as colleagues, anything explicitly, it is that we must take account of a changed way of thinking on public space and housing. This shift presents us with a major challenge when it comes to further densification of the city. The existing urban fabric needs revision, even in areas where there is no increase in density. Public space is becoming more homely, and houses are becoming workplaces, so partly more public. We will pay more attention to the immediate living environment: the space in the vicinity.
Read the article in Dutch:
Harteveld, Maurice (2020, October) Huiselijke Openbare Ruimte. Ontwerpen aan Plekken Nabij. In: Ruimte + Wonen. #3/2020 Thema Publieke Ruimte, 101e Jaargang, Nummer 3, October 2020, pp. 72-79
Ruimte + Wonen is a Dutch magazine and knowledge network for spatial professionals and housing experts, originated from the magazines S+RO and Tijdschrift voor de Volkshuisvesting. Go to ‘Ruimte + Wonen’ membership