The Future of Public Space

Valeria Macias

Posted by Valeria Macias

Through travel, work, and social relationships, cities connect a diverse group of people to an area. Public spaces are essential to cities as they have a positive impact on health and add quality of life. The current global pandemic has altered the city lifestyle and the public spaces attached to them. Because of this, we have to prepare to adjust our relationship with public spaces. 

Why Public Space is Important - Parks are the lungs of the city 

Quality public spaces are at the heart of a healthy society built by strong communities. These public spaces decrease the deterioration of the local environment and crime, which is important during social and economic hardships. During a hardship like our current pandemic, it’s important more than ever to have these public spaces for mental and physical health. A struggle that many are dealing with is a healthy balance while keeping social distance. 

This is not the first time communities have had to focus on alternative ways to address and improve public spaces for overall health. In cities like Chicago, new buildings, especially high-rises, must pay for development of new parks. Catastrophes dating as far back as the bubonic plague have triggered a push for better public health. Roles such as urban and health planners were created to build on existing expertise to update practices and adapt healthier new spaces.

Public Space during COVID

Properly addressing public space adjustments is a difficult topic as there are many unknown parts and a lack of uniform regulations. What can be said is that public spaces will have to adjust densities, which is mainly targeted for larger cities. In the case of short-term activity control, we will see current practices such as, six-foot distancing, facial covering and repeated hand-washing, as well as point-of-entry monitoring such as thermal scanning, continue. 

During the preliminary stages of the pandemic, cities noticed that roads were less full, so they started closing streets and allowing more pedestrian space and giving restaurants sidewalk space to allow businesses to continue. People are also noticing how important public space is for mental health as people rely on these spaces for exercise, fresh air and sunshine. 

Due to the recent increase in cases in certain states, it’s important to innovate and create a healthy public space that people can enjoy responsibly. 

The Future of Public Space

Local governments are doing great for their citizens by offering temporary legislation to help businesses out (here, here & here to list a few) but we’re in need of long term solutions. As we struggle to stay masked and monitoring becomes cumbersome, our public space needs to adjust in helping the community in order to stay united.

Having practical outdoor space will be important and we need to work together to make that possible. Luckily design and urban planners alike have already started conceptualizing the future of public spaces; from Baltimore’s guidebook to Smithgroup’s analysis. Throughout the uncertainty that we all share, it’s great to know that we have teams adapting to our new alternative realities for a healthier future. 



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