Daphne Bramham in the Vancouver Sun and Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times work through what we are all thinking about~what is this new normal? And for how long will this last? As Daphne directly states:
“There’s only one certainty, the experts tells us each day. If you don’t come into contact with the virus, you won’t get it and you won’t pass it on.”
This was the same strategy that was adopted in New York City during the 1918 Flu Epidemic to limit transmission of that virus. In that case, the bacillus that caused the infection was absent from the cultures taken. Like today there was no antidote to stop the flu. It was places like New York City that instituted a “robust” and organized public health infrastructure, distanced the healthy from the infected, and maintained public health campaign and disease surveillance that had lower mortality rates.
The self isolation that was so successful in 1918 can today stop the virus from exponentially spreading. Today most people are experiencing the new “oneness” with themselves or with immediate family members. That does not mean you can’t walk or cycle, just not in proximity to other people. Simon Fraser University gerontologist and planner Andrea Sara has created the hashtag #GoForAWalk to remind people to get out of their living quarters.
Michael Kimmelman observes that traditionally we “seek solace in religion, sports, entertainment and in the promise that modern science and societies provide all the tools needed to solve any problem.”
It is unusual that we look to changing our own behaviour and use of space to be part of the solution. But that is what is being asked of us as schools, services, shops and the accoutrements of daily life shutter like the page of a science fiction novel.
It also takes a direct hit on how we use outdoor space, and also shows how public space is basically designed for groups of people to congregate in, not for individuals. It is a telling thing that images of great well loved public spaces that are internationally recognized are shown to be empty. They were never designed for solitary solace, for a person or two to tuck in a corner here and there. Instead they were drawn up in the grand manner accommodating groups of people together, making the solitary oneness required by this pandemic uncomfortable and awkward, like a solitary tulip bulb planted in a barren garden.
While there is sure to be a discussion about the antiurban and antisocial characteristics of the pandemic in changing normally social discourse and use of space, there is also something else very evident~we don’t design public space to embrace our temporary oneness.
That also precludes many people who just happen to be one, including some of our most vulnerable. They are also the folks that do not have the apparatuses of modern life, without connective devices for social media and contact. For those people closing the libraries down is devastating. Like parks, libraries are the only other place where everyone is welcomed to use space equally.
While “oneness” for many is temporary, that’s not universally the case. One of the outcomes of the pandemic is to rethink how parks and places can be more inclusive of the “oneness” experience. How do we ensure that public space is useful and convenient for everyone?