Press 27.05.2020

Keeping a distance: How public spaces will change post-Covid-19

Partner Eugenia Grilli spoke to journalist Natalya Kudryavtseva at Kommersant Russia about how the COVID-19 pandemic may fundamentally change our relationship with public space and the way we design spaces in the future.

What will post-COVID-19 public spaces look like?

"We think COVID-19 will radically alter urban life and the way we use and design public spaces. Once the lockdown is lifted across the globe, there is going to be an upsurge in socialising and subsequently a requirement for more space to do it after this is over. The main focus will be on the development of spaces where people can interact, relax and walk, while maintaining a safe distance. At the same time, it will be necessary to improve the sanitation of spaces and surfaces. The need for more knowledge of virology will help inform the design of future spaces; collaborating with scientists will be vital.

This can lead to a number of changes in the way we design cities, parks and public spaces.

Parks will need to increase in size to simplify social distance, and instead of spaces for meetings and gatherings, such as the usual amphitheaters, spacious areas for interaction and contemplation will appear inside the parks.

People will want and require more space when interacting – this could be achieved through the development of wider neighbourhoods, larger pathways and the spacing out of seating. Streets might even be reconfigured or repurposed for recreation and physically-distanced movement.

What changes should be made to public spaces to improve citizens safety and well-being?

In connection with the coronavirus in London, we are already seeing a shift away from using public transport, so the creation of more cycle routes and walkable streets will be a priority, including more cycle parking. The choice of materials used to deliver our landscapes will also change. We should avoid harsh metals; in the extreme they are now associated with carrying germs for long periods of time, and specify more natural antiseptics such as timber.

We could see an increase in the introduction of automated technology within public spaces to reduce infection: water fountains, hand washing facilities, dispensers with disinfectants, temperature control technologies and automatic toilets.

It will also be necessary to ventilate more enclosed spaces or indoor landscapes. For example, our project Crossrail Place Roof Garden in Canary Wharf is a best-practice example of how natural ventilation can be used to create comfortable spaces. The garden is partially open to the elements through a semi-open ETFE roof, designed by leading architects Foster and Partners. This kind of intelligent design could help mitigate airborne contagion.

There will be an uptake in growing vegetables, use of allotments, private gardens and use of rooftop gardens. As landscape architects, we should facilitate the creation of such spaces and inclusion in any new residential developments. We are already advocating the use of such spaces in our work for Lendlease at Elephant Park, the regeneration of the Heygate Estate into a sustainable new community.

Do you think playgrounds will change in your opinions?

During the pandemic one of the most difficult tasks was to keep children away from playgrounds and sports equipment. A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that coronavirus can remain on the surface for a long time: 72 hours on plastic, about 48 hours on stainless steel and cardboard, and 8 hours on copper surfaces.

Even if children practice social distance on the playground, they still touch the same surfaces. In addition, children are constantly moving from one part of the playground to the other and often touch their faces. Therefore, the chances of getting infected are very high.

There are ways that we, as designers, can help reduce the spread of the virus in playgrounds, for example, to make sure that any new or existing playground is equipped with facilities to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and alcohol-based sanitizer dispensers. In addition, you can control the number of children playing on the playground, but this will require constant monitoring. For example, playing space can be used simultaneously by ten children at different times.

Regular cleaning and professional disinfection of high-touch surface areas like play equipment, seats, and tables might be required, multiple times during the day. The creation of small play spaces that are fenced and controlled by parents should be encouraged and play equipment materials should privilege the use of timber rather than metal or plastic.

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