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Reframing Public Spaces: from Recreational Amenity to Civic Good in Resilient Cities

COVID-19 Offers an Opportunity to Re-evaluate Neighbourhood Spaces to Ensure they are Available to All

Abstract

Cities emerging from the pandemic increasingly recognize that public spaces are a critical element of resilience, not merely recreational amenities. Future public spaces must be designed to accommodate more diverse and distanced activities, and may even change function entirely during public health emergencies. The need for informal public spaces has also become apparent, and cities can benefit from identifying them as resources and integrating them into land-use plans.
Parks, sidewalks and cycling paths can be justified as investments in resilience and survivability and quickly expanded. Their provision must be viewed through the lens of social and spatial equity: in many cities, not every person or community has convenient access to these critical public goods. Planners must go beyond metrics on the mere availability or density of public spaces, and delve deeper to assess the quality of spaces, and the ability of different demographic groups to reach them.
Historic neighbourhoods that developed organically offer useful inspiration when designing for equitable access and daily convenience, and can also accommodate the dispersal of jobs away from central business districts. Efforts to develop decentralised, “complete” neighbourhoods can be a boon for adaptive reuse, public space provision, and greater variety of work settings, while public areas of civic buildings can be re-imagined as nodes of collaboration in a knowledge-based economy.
Beyond building infrastructure, maintaining lively and welcoming public spaces requires empathy, respect for the commons, and care for fellow human beings. Physical spaces in a city can only be fully and genuinely “public” if they are safe, and open to everyone, regardless of age, language, identity, sexual orientation or ability. As cities undertake revitalization efforts following the pandemic, they must strive to ensure such places are available to all.

Published:
Pages:67 to 82
Section: Space
How to Cite
Hsu, K. (2020) “Reframing Public Spaces: from Recreational Amenity to Civic Good in Resilient Cities”, The Journal of Public Space, 5(3), pp. 67-82. doi: https://doi.org/10.32891/jps.v5i3.1416.

Author Biography

Centre for Liveable Cities
Singapore Singapore

Kevin Fan Hsu leads the Resilience/Sustainability research cluster at the Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore, which addresses climate change, energy transitions and low-carbon development; maintaining environmental quality and access to nature; and fostering resilience in cities globally. As a research fellow at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, he supports URA’s efforts to utilize digital technologies to enhance sustainable urban planning and heritage conservation. Kevin has taught Urban Studies and International Policy Studies courses at Stanford University, where he co-founded the Human Cities Initiative, and continues to offer design thinking courses at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school). He works with collaborators in Hong Kong on an annual public space design boot camp, initiated in 2017. He holds a graduate degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering and undergraduate degrees in Earth Systems and International Relations from Stanford University, and received training in Cultural Heritage Management from Johns Hopkins University.

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