Will Public Spaces Change After Isolation?

In cities around the world, public spaces emphasise our human desire for inclusion and sharing. With common assets, public spaces allow us to congregate, meet, relax, share, and play. Since the outbreak of the global pandemic COVID-19, cities, societies, and humans have changed in ways we have never experienced. With the introduction of social distancing, isolation and restrictions on many things, public spaces have lost the meaning they once had. This begs the question; will public spaces remain the same once life goes back to “normal”?

What has changed?

Across the globe the pandemic has seen dramatic reductions in public transport use and the use of public facilities in fear of contracting the disease. Many countries have also closed “non-essential” businesses and public spaces such as restaurants, clubs, pubs, and cinemas. This, as well as other restrictions employed by Governments has dramatically reduced street life across the world.

New Zealand, among many other countries have placed restrictions on outdoor activities and have encouraged people to stay home. Residents are only advised to go out if they are working, at school, getting essentials or exercising. While residents are allowed out of their homes, you are only allowed out for these reasons, and has meant that park benches, public facilities and public fitness equipment are all being avoided.

Images of empty stadiums, bare public squares and vacant parks have flooded the internet as a result of the many restrictions and fear of contracting the disease. These dramatic, yet essential changes have and may continue to change the way that humans interact in public spaces in the future.

What can we expect?

It is too early to tell how these changes may impact “normal” life but it is clear that things will be different. We have already started to see some changes in human behaviour that may translate to the way we use public spaces and facilities.

Social distancing measures have created a physical and emotional barrier to human interaction. Increases in xenophobia and racial stereotyping has led to antisocial public behaviour. This individualism-type behaviour may continue after restrictions have been eased and could mean that people are more are cautious of public facilities, people and hygiene.

On the other hand, we have also seen great examples of collectivism across the world in response to the pandemic. Many nations have taken to their balconies and streets to enjoy music together, exercise together or have a genuine human connection with others. These images are a reminder to all of us of the connection and interaction that we as humans need and how integral they are.

Our desire for human connection and interact is innate. It is ingrained into us and our societies. The way we have interacted in the past through public spaces may look different, but the need for public facilities will always remain.

There is no doubt that Coronavirus has changed the way we interact with others. The restrictions imposed by governing bodies worldwide has left public squares, restaurants and picnic areas vacant. With social distancing and social isolation measures in place, humans have reacted however they know best, whether that be with antisocial behaviour or banding together with their community. While humans can’t come together in public spaces at present, they still desire human connection and the ability to go back to their “normal” life. This includes being able to go to have BBQs in the park, catch up with friends in a square or go for a swim at their local pool. Once the world is open for business again, people will flock to the public spaces they miss so dearly.

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