“Design for Distancing”
A collaborative project from Baltimore shows ways to create a safe environment for public life despite the corona pandemic.
Concepts for a Safe Post-lockdown Summer
In May 2020, the city of Baltimore (USA), in cooperation with the Neighborhood Design Center, launched a public ideas competition in search of concepts for how to use the public space after the lockdown in summer 2020 in order to make public life and the upkeep of the local economy safe in accordance with hygiene and distance rules. From 162 entries, ten winning concepts were finally selected, which are listed in a guidebook available online. The concepts are easy to implement and are also applicable to other cities.
Each of the presented concepts contains sketches and plans as well as information on the relative costs to be expected for the realisation, the maintenance effort and the manual work that needs to be done. The necessary materials are also listed.
The City of Baltimore Realises Temporary “Distancing Designs”
In addition to the ideas competition and the guidebook, the project also included the actual implementation of the interventions in public space: With a budget of 1.5 million dollars from the COVID-19 Small Business Assistance Initiative of the City of Baltimore, temporary interventions were realised in 17 districts of the city in summer 2020. Each district was paired with a local design-build team to plan and implement the interventions. The city financed the realisations. Thanks to the financial and logistical support of the city in the implementation of the winning concepts, the projects were not just stuck in the idea stage, but were actually built.
Participation in Urban Development
Jennifer Goold, managing director of the Neighborhood Design Center, said in an article in The Architect’s Newspaper that the immediate goal of the Design for Distancing Initiative is to help people live safely in public spaces after the lockdown and help small businesses stay open despite the pandemic. Furthermore, it could also be a learning experience that leads to lasting changes in the way people use and occupy public space. She therefore also sees the proposed designs as a proposal for re-opening strategies in other cities.
The Neighborhood Design Center, which initiated the competition, has been working on collaborative urban development projects for over 50 years. These include, for example, the building of playgrounds or the redevelopment of abandoned buildings and vacant plots of land. On the one hand, underdeveloped urban areas benefit from the cooperation between residents, community representatives, design experts, local authorities and organisations. On the other hand, such projects have an integrative effect and offer participants the opportunity to strengthen the community and implement low-threshold solutions. Design interventions in public spaces can help to maintain public life and the local economy in the case of the corona pandemic by making it low-risk.
Where Are the Creative Solutions for the Corona Winter?
In the summer of 2020, Switzerland has also succeeded quite well in finding suitable social distancing solutions for bars, restaurants and events. Social life took place mainly outdoors – no problem with warm temperatures. The upcoming cold season, however, is becoming a challenge, as enclosed spaces are problematic and often lack the necessary space to maintain the required distance. The use of heating mushrooms outdoors is controversial for climate-protecting reasons (as this video clip shows). Some restaurants and cafés rely on other solutions such as transparent igloos, worn-out cable car gondolas or greenhouses converted into guest cabins (see also this article in the Luzerner Zeitung).
One thing is certain: winter is becoming a challenge for public life in pandemic-ridden cities. In addition to the hospitality industry, cultural institutions such as cinemas, theatres or music clubs must also develop new and flexible concepts in order to be able to react quickly to constantly changing government regulations. Innovative, creative and above all cost-effective solutions are required. Their design plays a central role here. This is an opportunity for the creative industry to take responsibility and position itself with convincing ideas suitable for everyday use. An ideas guidebook like the one developed in Baltimore could be a starting point.