12 May Imagining our Parks Post Covid-19
During the initial onslaught of the Covid-19 lockdown I feared for the future of public space. Restriction after restriction seemed to diminish the purpose and role of parks in what was described as the “new normal”.
Against the odds, and amongst new routines of working and schooling from home, new found time made available from reduced commuting, coupled with the powerful human instinct to connect with nature, has resulted in parks and trails becoming an even more important part of our daily lives.
Activities normally hidden away in our living rooms, the gymnasium, or a meeting room have started to spill out into public spaces. Our parks and streets have become an extension of our personal lives, our living rooms, a place for daily fitness, and a respite from the home office, or school routine.
Most of us will have tales to tell about navigating the wave of walkers, joggers and bike riders on constrained footpaths, while the adjacent roads remained empty of cars.
I curiously observed the creative and sociable ways people enjoyed themselves in our local park while adhering to the rules of physical distancing. A family in one pocket of the park throwing a frisbee, two young men kicking a footy on the lawn, an impromptu boot camp (next to the out-of-bounds fitness equipment), two women perched on the ends of a bench chatting and sharing a bottle of wine, a couple out for an afternoon walk, a group of teenagers lounging on the lawn, and the daily congregation of dog owners. I had never seen the park so alive!
Covid-19 has shown us the importance of making the public spaces we have, be it streets, parks or wilderness more friendly, safe and usable.
Optimistically, governments have recognised and acknowledged people’s newfound appreciation of the outdoors, with a number of public realm upgrade programmes recently announced. https://www.dpie.nsw.gov.au/premiers-priorities/great-public-spaces
This is an opportunity to use even the smallest of interventions to transform our streets and parks into highly productive, useable and friendly places with a lasting impact on communities.
Interestingly, prior to Covid-19, the ACT Government developed a Micro Park Guide as part of an initiative to use small human-scale urban interventions to improve amenity and enhance landscape qualities of existing public spaces with the goal of bringing immediate benefits to the community, without excessive expenditure or long approval processes.
Micro parks are seen as an opportunity to enhance the existing character of a space using principles that aim to:
- Foster the creation of animated public place destinations;
- Facilitate people focused approaches to envisioning the public realm;
- Generate designs and installations that promote health, happiness, prosperity, economic and social well-being; and
- Initiate community building in the process of the micro park’s creation and ongoing management.
Stemming from the micro parks initiative was the Woolley Street Project and the Dickson Swimming Pool Forecourt both in Dickson, a suburb of Canberra. These small interventions have transformed tired and underutilised public spaces into vibrant and joyful places. Whilst both projects are experimental and short-term, they gave people a first hand experience of the benefits of possible long-term upgrades. The interventions included the addition of small, human scaled elements that improved comfort and amenity. They also incorporated art and cultural activity, building capacity and artistic development.
Post occupancy evaluation of these projects points to invaluable insights into how these upgrades have changed people’s perceptions and behaviours, and also helped formulate a set of recommendations for long term improvements. Both projects are now in the next stage of design.
The changes in people’s appreciative value of public spaces is a positive consequence of physical distancing. It represents a change to build upon the way we use and design public spaces in our cities. And in the context of post Covid-19, the Micro Park Guide offers potential propositions and a road map for communities to rediscover their public spaces.
Co-Founder and Director of PLACE Laboratory