MAKING ROOM FOR PUBLIC LIFE

  1. A lot of mobility, too little space “to stay”.  Currently developing policies focus on movement, mobility, displacement of people and goods in the city. We all agree that protecting our health by avoiding gatherings (i.e. in public transport) is very important; the generation of congestion and traffic could cause the worsening of the environmental conditions of our cities. There is plenty of public debate  about bicycles, pop-up cycle paths and the redefinition of the roadway spaces in favor of active mobility systems (including walking, scooters, electric vehicles, etc.). There is much less discussion of public life, though, and of city spaces as public assets, transversal and democratic infrastructures supporting citizenship – as a service, as the basic tool for public health policies, as a needed and unpredictable space for interaction, exchange, political representation.
COVID safety measures didn’t prevent people from Tel Aviv protesting against Isreael government last april
  1. Physical distance is not social distance. From people singing from terraces and balconies, to more complex and organized forms of relationship, this lockdown taught us the indispensable (and inevitable) dimension of sociality: we understood it by rediscovering our courtyards and gradually redefining new and old remnants of public life (the basis of our common living). The luckiest could experience it by taking advantage of lively and diverse neighborhoods, offering “15-minutes-walks” services, solidarity networks that (unfortunately not everywhere) represented a lifeline for low income and more disadvantaged people. In these difficult weeks, the “public city” has not disappeared, as it nestled in spaces and places with a more minute grain, probably less visible, but not less significant. This is an important potential to develop (or not to forget about), in particular for all those contexts in which social bindings are weaker or more difficult to consolidate. A “safe” public space should help reduce inequalities, integrating the system of social services.
Many redescovered new forms sociality in courtyards (finally getting to know their neighbours).
  1. Lots of city centers, very few suburbs. As we explore these topics it gets clearer and clearer that many of these policies focus more on central districts (where commerce, economic and profitable activities used to be). Handling our public spaces, and making new use of them in this transitional period, should be also intended as an extraordinary opportunity to rescale the offer of recreational and common spaces city-wide. It is time for urbanism to seriously confront with public health issues, especially as it comes to less equipped and less vibrant neighborhoods. Those areas in which it is more difficult for people to access diversified resources, should not be forgotten (representing in many cases those who more than others have suffered the consequences of the lockdown).

As in every big societal change we need to shift and redefine our paradigms, overcoming segmentation of solutions, standardized interpretations and rigid ruling in favor of integration, imagination and creativity. Negotiation in interests and priorities, conflict and contamination of uses, practices and solutions should be included and valued (instead of avoided) in these stages of the discussion. At these stages my impression is we need to be brave, much braver than this, if, as we keep repeating, we want this to be “the big chance” we were waiting for.