Setha Low


Public space offers the places, circuits and networks used for contact with the diverse people and different activities that make up our social and psychological world. There is 35 years of ethnographic research evidence that public space is a major contributor to a flourishing society by promoting social justice and democratic practices, informal work and social capital, play and recreation, cultural continuity and social cohesion, as well as health and well-being.  During this COVID-19 pandemic, however, we are experiencing a shrinking sense of this world and the resulting isolation tears at the fabric of our lives and exposes how dependent we are on one another for well-being and happiness.  At the same time the pandemic highlights the socioeconomic basis of disease vulnerability and exposure risk.  Expanding the use of streets, parks and open spaces can help to reinstitute the kinds of connections and relationships that underpin a flourishing society but only if a social justice agenda is kept in mind.


* This article includes data updated to March 2021.


How to Cite
Low, S. (2020) “Thoughts on Public Space and Flourishing during COVID-19”, The Journal of Public Space, 5(3), pp. 249–254. doi: 10.32891/jps.v5i3.1365.
Author Biography

Setha Low, City University of New York, The Graduate Center

Setha Low received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. She trains Ph.D. students in the anthropology of space and place, urban anthropology, the anthropology of the body, and cultural values in historic preservation. She is also director of the GC’s Public Space Research Group. She has been awarded a Getty Fellowship, an NEH fellowship, a Fulbright Senior Fellowship, and a Guggenheim for her ethnographic research on public space in Latin America and the United States. She was president of the American Anthropological Association from 2007 to 2009.
Her current research is on the impact of private governance on New York City co-ops and condominiums, and she is writing a book titled “Spatializing Culture: An Anthropological Theory of Space and Place.” In 2009 she began a collaborative project with Dolores Hayden on spatial methods and public practices, funded by the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and in 2010 she was a fellow in the Center for Place, Culture and Politics. In 2011 she became cochair of the Public Space and Diversity Network, funded by the Max Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity. Most recently, she received funding from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to study condominiums and private governance in Toronto and New York with Randy Lippert.
 She is widely published, with more than a hundred articles and chapters, and lectures internationally.


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