It’s so easy to take public space for granted. It’s all around us, and we use it every day to commute, to do our errands, to meet friends, family, neighbors and strangers. But like so many things, we only really appreciate the full value of public space when it has been taken away from us.
As the COVID-19 pandemic proceeds, public life has had to shrink to ensure that the virus ceases to spread through our communities. We all must practice “social distancing” to protect the people around us, and that means that although we will miss them dearly, our parks, plazas, markets, streets, and other public spaces must go dormant for now.
But times like this are also important moments of reflection. What value does public space offer in a lockdown?
For one thing, if past crises hold any wisdom for us, we can expect that the places that have the strongest public life are currently benefiting from the strongest support networks. As sociologist Eric Klinenberg has argued, this social infrastructure is vital to ensuring that all of us weather disasters well, and even though we cannot gather in person during this crisis, one can already see the creative local responses taking shape around the world, fueled by social capital that has built up over time.
Yet despite these inspiring efforts here and there, most communities in the United States were already facing an epidemic of loneliness that has left us fragile. Now, we face not only an economic recession, but a social recession that will prey on the most vulnerable among us. Although it seems a long way off now, this is why public space must play a key role as we recover from this pandemic. We have a duty to rebuild our communities to be more resilient by investing in welcoming, lively, meaningful public spaces for all.
In the meantime, Project for Public Spaces will continue its work, planning and designing public spaces with the people they impact most, and equipping placemakers like you with the knowledge and tools you need to strengthen your community through public space:
- Today we published an article with guidance for public space managers on what they can do to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
- When it comes to our upcoming How to Create Successful Markets training and Walk/Bike/Places conference, we are monitoring the situation closely, and will keep you updated on any delays, cancellations, or shifts to an alternative format.
- We continue to work with our many local partners to implement on-the-ground placemaking projects, including our recently announced partnership with Claritin on the Clarity Parks project to rebuild parks after natural disasters.
- In the coming month, we plan to announce additional resources to support you—from a safe distance—during this time of need. Do you have questions you need answered or stories you would like to share? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CEO, Project for Public Spaces