What’s next for our public spaces?

May 4, 2020

In Spain, the Covid-19 lockdown has been one of the strictest in the world. Only one adult at a time is allowed out only to go to the supermarket or the pharmacy. For six long weeks, children were not allowed to leave home at all. As of this week we are finally allowed outside for an hour of exercise. After seven weeks the restrictions are beginning to be cautiously eased, but it seems that ‘normal’ life is still a long way off.

Just like everyone else, we adapt. We find ways to organise work and school from home, to entertain ourselves, to jump around in front of exercise videos on YouTube. At 8pm each day, we go outside to clap for the wonderful people keeping the country going. The realisation that this is the first time all day that you’ve seen any other people apart from your immediate family is sobering.

We humans are social creatures and never has this been more evident than now. We spend so much of our life interacting with others, seeking out the company of friends and family to make our free time more meaningful. Right down to the small social connections we make with strangers as we go about our daily lives. Simple things that we don’t really appreciate until they’re suddenly gone.

(Wave 3 from our Playwaves line of play sculptures)

Social interaction is one of the reasons we love designing for urban spaces. Our parks, playgrounds, squares, and plazas are the focal points of our communities, the places where we can all go to relax, play, socialise, or just enjoy a bit of nature on our way to somewhere else. They are spaces for everyone, and we love the challenge of designing something to enhance them.

The beauty of urban furniture is that it’s so wide-ranging. Elements that give us a place to sit, eat, play, dispose of our rubbish. Others that provide us with storage, safety, light, shade. All of which come together to make our experience in the public space more pleasant.

(Queretaro benches, picnic tables and planters, and Cuernavaca parasols)

But as lockdowns start to be lifted, we venture out into a new normal. People are to stay 2 metres away from each other at all times. Playgrounds are cordoned off and use of outdoor furniture is discouraged. It got us thinking. How will our public spaces change as a result?

Now more than ever, it’s essential for us to study what is happening in the world in order to adapt our designs to address a need. As designers, how can we propose new ways of using public space to fulfil this longing we all have for social interaction?

(Merida individual seat)

Perhaps instead of benches that seat 2 or 3, people would rather sit on individual seats. Adequate and suitable bins are needed to make sure that rubbish stays where it’s supposed to (after seeing the increase in plastic gloves blowing around on the streets, it’s clear this isn’t the case yet). Bollards and lane dividers can help to safely and clearly divide areas for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars. Maybe we need to rethink and design some entirely new elements? Or just maybe, as a friend of ours suggested, all this will blow over and we’ll eventually carry on as before.

(Bollards separating bus lanes from pedestrian areas)

This too shall pass. A phrase heard often over the past few weeks. But even though it passes, it doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to stay the same. As the world emerges from lockdown, we wait to see how we reclaim our public spaces, and how we choose to use them differently. We look forward to the day we can go to the park and socialise with others again. And at Neko, we adapt to make sure that our designs continue to help make them pleasant spaces to spend time together.

How do you think our public spaces will change in the future? Let us know your thoughts!

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