The Future of Public Space after COVID-19

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Assoc. Prof. Asarha Suwanrit, Dean of the faculty of Architecture and Area Planning, Thammasat University contributed an article “The impact of COVID-19 on Public Space: A Review of Emerging Questions” (Honet-Roses, Jordi. Et al. 2000. The Impact of COVID-19 on Public Space: A Review of Emerging Questions. April 2020) to Pitch Phongsawas, a Matichon columnist.

Pitch, inspired by Prof Suwanrit’s views, discusses the future of public spaces post.

Public Spaces, the heart of city life, is now being questioned, after being the biggest target of the virus spreading prevention like the lockdown and social distancing policy. The public space, where people can get together, is the main source of the spreading.

It is important to start thinking about the roles and duties of public spaces and how we can change it for the next phase of the pandemic and a more sustainable future.

In theory, designing public space should start from the concept or the big picture of the kind of city that people would like to live in.

One of the ways to design the public space is tactical urbanism (DIY Urbanism, Guerrilla Urbanism), brainstorming, and making decisions by those living in the area. This method goes as far as using local power and small business instead of a mega-project investment by outsiders to prevent turning the area into a business.

The concept of a healthy city is also important. People have to think about short-term health care like in the time of the pandemic and long-term care like the health benefit of green space, the peoples’ happiness and quality of life. Also, practicality is key.

Another important point in designing public space is mobility. It is important to consider how individuals, carpooling, and public transportation are going to move around the city. The spreading of COVID-19 doesn’t make it any easier. Coming up with good and practical design under a tight budget is challenging. Moreover, people are now using private vehicles instead of public transportation because of the social distancing policy.

People with lower incomes have fewer choices when it comes to space. They tend to use public spaces more than people with higher incomes since their houses don’t have as many living spaces.

Working from home is a good example. People with enough space in their houses don’t need public space while those in need often seek public space to work. People with higher incomes tend to use public space for recreational purposes, and those with lower incomes tend to see public space as a shelter while waiting for help. This is why those designing space should think about the different groups of people that will be simultaneously using the area.

Theses complexity and problems are what make designing the public spaces after the pandemic so hard. The designers should think about who will be using the area and how many people will be using the area at the same time. The design, density usage regulation, public space awareness, and lives in the public space will never be the same.

Moreover, the indoor space is also important. The department of Public works and town and country planning should be adding new regulations and conditions to suit the changing trends especially virus spreading prevention and other healthcare regulations.

Other than regulations on public spaces, there is also increased law enforcement and health measures on some economic activities like food carts and stalls. Results in exclusion, pushing people out of the area because there have to find more spaces between carts.

These measures also affect the cost and profit of each seller. It is not they should not be implemented but it should start small and allow the community to be part of the decision. The community and government should agree and allow them to adapt, not creating a lot of rules to push them away.

Lastly, the change in public space might affects the connection of the global cities around the world in mobility, travel measure, and housing. These also create chain effects on the accessibility and the mobility of people and capital on both the global cities and other small cities. For example, Phuket, Thailand is completely closed, and that decision affects the accessibility and housing which in turn affects the economy and people’s daily lives.

In conclusion, we must know the conditions and effects of the city and public space planning. We should think about the general public and let the community be part of the design process and discuss the direction of our public space after COVID-19 together and create sustainable changes.