Why do we think we can only use parks in groups of people? As Philadelphia Inquirer’s Inga Saffron writes, as more cities and towns are issued stay-at-home orders over the viral spread of COVID-19, we have to
“recalibrate our relationship with our beloved public spaces if we are going to survive this plague. We’ve been using city parks as if everything were normal. By now we should understand that everything is not normal. Like so many other treasured aspects of urban life — from crowded sidewalks to noisy ball games — parks are no longer working for us.”
Parks were the “last available social refuge, a safe space where we could go to be with people who are not part of our immediate families, the only remaining cure for our cabin fever. But in following our natural desire to be among fellow humans, we failed to recognize the danger signs.”
Those danger signs are the mingling closer to 1.5 meters or six feet, which allows the COVID-19 virus to spread.
It’s also against our nature not to move closer to talk directly with people. And that’s where the push-pull of public and park spaces become challenging.
“Because it’s so hard to be social and practice social (physical) distancing at the same time, its going to take mindful behaviour modification to adjust to the new reality. So how can we use parks and open spaces responsibly?”
As Philadelphia’s Director of Parks and Recreation Kathryn Ott Lovell points out parks are central to people’s lives and an essential service. Parks also have been places where people mingled at turbulent times. They were used (as in Vancouver’s Sunset Beach) for memorial quilts during the AIDS epidemic and are used for vigils . With playgrounds being closed to keep children from close contact, parks and being able to use them individually or in small family units is now more important than ever.
Parks have always been there for people, but being able to have and to access them may not have been as highly valued as they are now. As Saffron concludes:
As bad as things are, try to imagine what life would be right now without our parks. Before this crisis, we took our parks for granted. They were something that was always there, and, as a result, we’ve underfunded them for decades. Now it turns out we need our parks like we need food: for basic survival. When the virus passes — and it will — let’s remember it was our parks that enabled us to endure this crisis.”
Images: InsideVancouver & viralzblog