Social Solidarity Amidst Spatial Distancing
A few weeks in, it appears that our collective physical distancing efforts together with the heroic efforts of our first responders, health care professionals and front-line services is starting to have a real impact on slowing the spread of COVID-19. We are all settling in to new norms of sheltering in place, Zoom meetups and remote work.
But as the weather improves and the real health impacts of isolation take hold, cities, neighborhoods and households are making moves to safely get outside and overcome the effects of social distancing through spatially separated microdoses of community:
Open up Public Spaces
When even the business journals remark at the lack of traffic, it is time to dramatically rethink how to best use our streets. With less traffic, the cars that remain tend to go faster. What is more, we have rarely given more than five feet to sidewalks, which makes a six foot separation difficult. With nicer weather, more people are heading out for walks and crowding in the public spaces we do have. To combat this, cities around the country and world are taking steps to open up connected networks of streets for people to lessen crowding at major public spaces and provide lower density public spaces closer to where people are sheltering in place.
Long marginalized by air conditioning or television and more recently demoted to the Amazon Drop-Off Pad, the porch and stoop are reclaiming their natural position as the seat for neighborhood entertainment. Coordinated happy hours in Cincinnati, nightly waves in Fort Wayne and porch-to-porch parties are giving people the ability to get together while maintaining a safe degree of separation. Never before have so many people noticed down to the foot the setback of their house or apartment building. It appears that 6 feet might be just right.
One of the joys of walking in a neighborhood has always been the little unexpected things you happen upon. Sidewalk chalk is becoming one of the great pens of these times as people of all ages are spreading joy, art, notes, obstacle courses, games and art throughout their neighborhoods.
Cultural devices such as music, spoken word poetry and performance art are center pieces of the civic commons and connect people with often disparate backgrounds. Music, in particular, has a way of bridging distance and serves as a driver of community connection and public exchange. We’ve seen everything from young cellists playing for a sef-isolating elder to a bookable truck that can come in front of your house for you and your neighbors to enjoy.
Joe Nickol is a founding partner of YARD & Company, an urban growth and development strategy firm based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Joe has 15 years of experience in urban design, architecture, and development. He has directed projects for public and private clients in over 25 states and 7 countries, ranging from targeted popup initiatives to billion-dollar developments of city districts and neighborhoods.