A new approach to urban space in a post-pandemic era

Following months of economic shutdowns, some state governments began to reopen their economies in last few months, with the hopes of bringing people back to work and returning to some sense of normalcy. For businesses in the leisure and hospitality industry in particular, the shutdowns were devastating, with nearly 30 percent of jobs lost since the lockdown.

Due to the uncontrolled public health crisis, we are already seeing irreparable economic damage from COVID-19. The future of restaurants in particular is uncertain. Experts have suggested near-term and long-term solutions that include reimagining norms of dine-in and takeout services, making protective gear widely available, extending hyperlocal infrastructure for small businesses, and strengthening community-based food hubs and community-supported agriculture programs. Of course, these interventions are effective only to the extent that they are financially supported and that people follow them.

Also, the coronavirus will fundamentally alter the way people travel for and conduct business, even after the pandemic is over. As a crisis, Covid-19 has been a universal experience with local dimensions depending on where you are. Access to open space, places for recreation and fitness and children’s play, have all become new priorities for many.

Use ‘left-over’ spaces

Physical distancing rules have brought into focus the amount of space pedestrians need, not only to move around but also for social interaction, exercise and play. This has highlighted the importance of left-over open spaces between and around buildings. Many people are already informally utilising these spaces as ad-hoc play and exercise spaces. This investment in local quality of life would benefit both the residents and developers, making communities more attractive for owners and tenants.

Create connected and comfortable outdoor spaces

Comfort, safety and a pleasing experience play a huge role in outdoor spaces’ popularity. Too often however, poor design choices lead to a lack of safety, comfort and engagement for users, leaving places underused.

Integrate private outdoor spaces into building designs

Private and semi-private outdoor spaces such as balconies, courtyards, and podiums not only provide a breather from the confines of our internal spaces but also provide options for people to socialise with their neighbours, reinforcing a sense of community.

Design places for children to play

As parents all over the planet are all too aware, children need outside spaces to play and run around. They need open spaces and safe streets to be active and exert their independence even when they are as young as toddlers. These are places where they develop and learn socially, by playing with their peers. The challenges posed by the current pandemic have highlighted how important the public realm around our homes is in facilitating play, exercise and informal learning.

Start with an open space strategy

Beyond formally designated open spaces like parks and playgrounds, it’s valuable to plan for and maximise informal open spaces such as spaces between buildings, podiums and terraces. As we start to consider how to design resilient cities, we should look to these private and semi-private spaces such as balconies, podiums and courtyards to provide additional options for outdoor activity.

Community wellbeing in future depends on our taking a joined-up approach to the use of space. A well thought-through Open Space Strategy at a city or master plan level can be an important tool in identifying and providing an appropriate mix of open spaces to meet a community’s needs, catering for a variety in size, public access, and function.