What are the changes in public (physical and digital) spaces that will last in the post-pandemic times?
And how can we influence developments?
The crisis induced by the pandemic has quickened and fueled several diverging contradictory trends. We are witnessing an accelerating, ever more pervasive digitalization, with a plethora of functions, services, products, and experiences shifting to the virtual realm, be they commercial, professional, cultural, educational, leisurely, political, or administrative. Parallelly, social interactions are increasingly relying on, developing, and unfolding in the digital sphere, at once shaping and being shaped by the latter.
Urban Public Space
On the one hand, in the physical environment, we are experiencing an increasingly intensive and multifarious use of parks and green areas and appropriation of public spaces such as streets and squares by city users, for walks, bike rides, play, and socializing, as well as cultural activities. On the other hand, we are witnessing a rise in the withdrawal of the urban population towards suburban homes and living, with private gardens or in the comfort and safety of purposeful intentional communities in co-housing or co-living arrangements, possibly contributing to further spatial segregation.
Furthermore, we can expand our outreach globally, digitally drifting off to more, and more remote locations, and yet the future looks more and more locally bound and organized, with more energy and resources pouring in the revitalization of neighborhood- and city-based social, cultural, and economic ties.
As digital spaces are continuously hatching and developing spaces of social interaction, any notion of the future of public spaces must account for both digital public space and physical urban spaces, for their blurring, mutual influence, and interaction.
The quality of public urban space and its potential for serendipitous encounters, enabling exchange and accidental, fortuitous contacts is something deeply crucial. It allows us to meet the other and to learn from one another, breaking through the “bubbles” and echo chambers of highly personalized, tailormade digital existences, presences, and performances of identity.
The function of public urban spaces in contrasting encroaching gentrification should not be underestimated, either – truly inclusive public spaces have the capacity to welcome people with radically different backgrounds, offering the chance to grow and cherish a sense of belonging.
Dr. Harriet Harriss, Dean of Pratt Institute School of Architecture
Prof. Elizabeth Sikiaridi, TH OWL, Hybrid Space Lab
Dr. Mona Sloane, NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge
Yasemin Pamuk, Head of Cultural Affairs and Science, German Consulate General New York
Dr. Katja Simons, Executive Director, Campus OWL New York Office
Dr. Kathrin DiPaola, Program Manager, DWIH New York