A Fresh Perspective: 2020’s influence on park and public space design

At the start of 2021, Urban Effects reflects on how the challenges of 2020 have given New Zealanders a fresh perspective on the value of our parks and public spaces.

The way we live, work and play has changed, driven by a deeper awareness of the importance of physical and mental health and the factors that contribute to it – good hygiene, regular exercise, strong social networks and a connection to the natural environment.

Here, we explore how this is shaping the way we use parks and public spaces, the value we place on them and how that’s influencing urban design and street and park furniture trends in 2021.

Recreation, resilience and recovery

Through lockdown and beyond, advice from the New Zealand Government and the Mental Health Foundation has reinforced the link between outdoor recreation and physical and mental health. But even as restrictions have by-and-large been lifted, what the research shows is that physical activity and play don’t just help build “resilience during times of high risk or ongoing stress”, they have a “restorative value for those who have experienced traumatic events”.

The message is clear. In a COVID-altered world, our outdoor recreation spaces play a vital role in New Zealand’s resilience and recovery.

Equal ground

Lockdown periods, travel restrictions and working and learning from home resulted in more and more people seeking recreation outlets and exercise options closer to home.

While the trend in recent years to incorporate parks and open spaces into urban and residential developments has ensured many New Zealanders have fantastic facilities on their doorsteps, there are still gaps. This calls on Councils, landscape architects, urban planners and developers to provide greater equity of access to parks and open spaces, and meet community needs across different demographics.


  • More and upgraded recreation spaces in existing residential areas – play spaces, walking trails, running and cycling tracks with supporting amenities such as shelters, seating and BBQ areas, bike racks, drinking fountains and waste management.
  • ‘Chill out zones’ in parks and public spaces with large, platform style seating which promote social distancing while also creating a sense of connection and belonging.
  • ‘Micro parks’ – the creation of small, well-designed green spaces that enhance the landscape qualities of existing public spaces and optimise the use of space in dense, built-up urban environments. Think rooftop gardens, conversions of unused lots and inner city carparks, and the re-imagining and re-purposing of kerbsides, thoroughfares and public precincts.
  • ‘Linear parks’ which promote walking, running and cycling or relaxation along un-used transport corridors or maximise lake, river and beachside locations.
  • Inclusive and accessible street and park furniture which supports individuals of all ages and abilities to enjoy the outdoors.

Handy hygiene

New health and hygiene protocols have been introduced in public places and they are likely to remain in place.


  • Convenient and contactless outdoor sanitiser stations, and pedal activated drinking fountains and waste bins.
  • Products and technology which support rigorous cleaning and maintenance regimes, for example antimicrobial surface coatings and virtual monitoring of parks and public spaces.
  • Outdoor learning spaces in schools which support curriculum-based learning outside the classroom.

Great (and green) escapes

With international travel off the agenda, New Zealanders are being encouraged to ‘holiday at home’ and support the local tourism industry. This has seen the return of the family road trip, with families seeking action and play-filled holidays within their local regions.


  • Destination-style parks and play spaces with strong historical and cultural themes that are unique to a location. Think custom-designed park and street furniture made from locally sourced timbers and incorporating artwork and features by local artists.
  • Parks and rest-stops with family-friendly amenities for travellers. Think picnic and BBQ facilities, playgrounds, toilets and change rooms, hydration stations, bollards and bins.

Buy local

COVID-19 has impacted the local and global economy and disrupted supply chains, forcing individuals and business to re-think what they buy and who and where they buy it from. ‘Buy local’ is being promoted as the fastest and best way to restore the economy, save jobs and create employment opportunities. While the financial impact of COVID-19 has increased the pressure on budgets, cost-effective park and public space upgrades are a priority.


  • Connect with New Zealand businesses with local manufacturing capability.
  • Realise the benefits associated with local suppliers including supply chain certainty, reduced lead times and costs, and enhanced customisation capability, quality and products designed for the local climate and conditions.

Genuine sustainability

The pandemic and climactic conditions have heightened the focus on human impact on the natural environment, and our reliance on a healthy, liveable environment. A more informed and environmentally savvy community wants the facilities and amenities in their parks and public spaces to not just look eco-friendly but be eco-friendly.


  • Tap into advances in sustainable park and street furniture design and fabrication of materials from recyclable and recycled materials.
  • Parks designed with climate resilience in mind –smart shade, hydration solutions, water and waste management and facilities built to withstand extreme weather events.

Are you helping create a healthy, happy and connected community with upgrades to your park, public space or school? Urban Effects’ friendly, energetic team are here to help. Call us today on Free Call 0508 487 226 or send us an email.

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