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Frontlines of the Social Distancing Effort Shifts to Parks and Open Space

Too many people have been seeking normalcy on parks and on trails. This isn’t a normal time.
March 25, 2020, 9am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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East Rutherford, New Jersey
Erin Alexis Randolph

Many of the shelter in place orders in effect around the country, and pressure from government officials to maintain “social distancing,” came with an escape hatch: people have generally been encouraged to continue hiking and walking outside for exercise and peace of mind.

That last vestige of normalcy was quickly overwhelmed by large numbers of residents in numerous cities taking to parks and open spaces, prompting closures of parks and trails in cities and counties, like Los Angeles city and county, the city of San Diego, and Sonoma County (also in California). Several parks in the San Francisco Bay Area also closed in response to crowded conditions over the weekend.

In New York City, the number of people in parks over the weekend provoked a tweet from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that might have inadvertently fueled anti-density sentiment as the city braces for the worst infestation and death rates of the pandemic in the United States so far.

The story was the same in Minneapolis, where Miguel Otárola wrote to broadcast warnings from local officials about heavy traffic on local trails, putting too many people in close proximity. 

Inga Saffron, pulitzer prize-winning architecture critic, also wrote an appeal for Philadelphia residents to “recalibrate our relationship with our beloved public spaces if we are going to survive this plague.”

Some advocates are calling for streets to be closed to cars due to the lack of open public space proximate to neighborhoods in many cities, an action already taken in Philadelphia on Martin Luther King Drive.

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Published on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 in The Philadelphia Inquirer
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