The Pandemic Revealed Public Space as 'Essential Infrastructure'

COVID-19 restrictions have highlighted the importance of abundant, multi-use open spaces accessible to all.

Read Time: 2 minutes

February 5, 2021, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Park(ing) Day

The concept of parklets gained steam last year as restaurants sought to maximize outdoor seating. | SPUR / Flickr

Of the many profound changes experienced by cities in 2020, writes John King, the most meaningful might be the "realization of the importance of public space in all its forms, as well as heightened expectations of what such spaces should provide." From public seating to pocket parks to vast open spaces, the restrictions on indoor(and many outdoor) activities highlighted the need for safe, accessible, and abundant public spaces.

"In a July survey conducted by the East Bay Regional Parks District, more than 20% of the respondents said they visit one of the district’s 73 parks 'weekly,' four times the amount recorded in 2019." Public spaces also took on unexpected uses, including parking lots transformed into dining spaces, vacant lots turned into COVID-19 testing sites, and parks used to distribute free food and necessities. Phil Ginsburg, general manager of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "parks are not luxuries or sweet amenities — they’re essential infrastructure."

But some warn against "knee-jerk" reactions from city planners and officials who assume, for example, that restrictions on cars are "an absolute good." Oakland's Slow Streets program received such criticism for its expedited implementation and lack of adequate public outreach. Oakland architect June Grant argues that plans must be made at the neighborhood level, where local users know how they use their local roads and public spaces. Ryan Russo, director of Oakland’s Department of Transportation, admits that the city's policies have often failed to reflect the experiences of underrepresented communities. "It’s too easy to listen to voices that reflect your own experiences. We need to stay in conversation with the community."

Friday, January 1, 2021 in San Francisco Chronicle

BART Train

Inclusive Prosperity: No Displacement Necessary

Recent analysis identifies nearly 200 U.S. neighborhoods that have achieved the highly-sought-after goal of increasing the prosperity of residents without displacing the existing community.

September 15, 2022 - Brookings

Green Healthy Community

Making Healthy Places

The editors of the book "Making Healthy Places," recently published in a second edition by Island Press, discuss the intersections of public health and planning, including key concepts such as green gentrification, health impact assessments, and AI.

September 18, 2022 - Laurie Mazur

Aerial view of homes west of downtown Chicago, Illinois

Chicago ADUs Concentrated in More Affluent Neighborhoods

An analysis of city-issued permits shows that homeowners in gentrified wards are building accessory dwelling units at much higher rates than those in less well-off communities.

September 18, 2022 - Chicago Sun-Times

A family exits from a rowhouse. Picture is identifiably from the 1980s based on the clothing fashion of the family.

Is it a Rowhouse, or a Rowhome?

Philadelphia has long been acknowledged as the capital of rowhouses in the United States. It’s becoming more common for those rowhouses to be referred to as rowhomes.

1 hour ago - BillyPenn

San Francisco Bay bridge and Treasure Island aerial view

Maps for Proposed San Francisco Bay Tunnel Revealed

Planners presented two options for new tunnels that would help connect more parts of the Northern California megaregion to San Francisco and Oakland.

September 23 - San Francisco Examiner

Floodwaters and damaged road in Yellowstone National Park

How the Yellowstone Floods Laid Bare a Housing Crisis

This year’s historic floods ravaged communities already roiled by spiking housing costs and a shortage of available workforce housing near the nation’s oldest national park.

September 23 - High Country News

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.