COVID Place making
March 27, 2020

Covid-19 sparks Retail Revolution in Wilton UK

Wilton UK with a population of 3,600 is tucked in the southwest of England. It’s the place where Wilton carpets came from and has been an Anglo Saxon settlement for over one thousand years.

There’s no church here so the local pub called The Swan serves as the community centre. Its closure due to Covid-19 coupled with reduced train service to London might look problematic to outsiders. But as The Economist points out, technology and village good will stepped in.

“A new local WhatsApp group is flooded with messages offering to pick up food or prescriptions for the elderly or to walk other people’s dogs and news bulletins: loo paper available in Tesco in Marlborough, potatoes now for sale on the market stall, newspaper deliveries still happening intermittently.”

The proprietor of the local closed pub ingeniously revamped the premises as a “pop-up shop selling vegetables, fruit, milk, bread and even (wonders!) local eggs. Wine is priced at a flat £10 a bottle. ”

Being British and not wanting to endanger his pub licence, the pub owner worried about overstepping regulations, but his premise repurposing met with local authority approval.  With a maximum of two customers  in the store at any one time, he’s also selling takeout meals. And surprise! The venture is taking off.

Even the local wheat farmer is upbeat, as the crisis has made his crop more desirable with a lot of it already sold.

While it would appear that losing amenities would lessen community contacts, in this case it appears to have strengthened them.

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In the Bad News Good News Department, the City of Sydney Australia is finally getting automated pedestrian crossing in their major downtown intersections, because of the Covid-19 virus crisis.

If you are unfamiliar with Australian politics, the State and the City do not get along and have different agendas when it comes to cities. The State has control of the highway network and is still in the 20th century model of moving vehicles quickly and efficiently, with secondary thought to pedestrians. You would think with 90 percent of movement in the downtown being by pedestrians that they would have priority at intersections. But no. Pedestrians have long waits, and automation of crossings only during the day. Other times there are push buttons that still don’t activate crossing in a timely fashion and there’s no standardized automatically set intervals for crossing.

Until now.

In this article by News 7 Sydney,  Mayor Clover Moore said pedestrian buttons “would not need to be pushed for the foreseeable future”, as the state government , which has control of major arterials in the city has made the signal changes for pedestrians and cyclists.

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A group of Vancouverites who work in trauma and counselling have been circulating an email asking their friends for their favourite poems or prose that helped at a time of crisis. Among the poems being circulated is this one from  poet Naomi Shihab Nye, which was sent in by a librarian.

These are difficult times for everyone from many standpoints. This poem was a favourite of the crisis workers. The images are by photographer Ken Ohrn.

The Song

From somewhere
A calm musical note arrives.
You balance it on your tongue,
a single ripe grape,
till your whole body glistens.
In the space between breaths
You apply it any wound
and the wound heals.

Soon the nights will lengthen,
you will lean into the year humming like a saw.
You will fill the lamps with kerosene,
knowing somewhere a line breaks,
a city goes black,
people dig for candles in the bottom drawer.
You will be ready. You will use the song like a match.
It will fill your rooms
opening rooms of its own
so you sing, I did not know
my house was this large.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

Images: Ken Ohrn

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Physical distancing for the Covid-19 virus has been an issue in the impoverished Downtown Eastside of Vancouver where the street functions as the community’s living room.  Many residents of this area live in the SROs’ (single room occupant) hotels in the area. These offer a room with a shared bathroom for the entire floor.

CBC’s Angela Jung has written this article indicating that the City of Vancouver is reserving hotel rooms for individuals who are homeless or using shelters that may need physical isolation  because of the Covid-19 virus.

The City has been working with Vancouver Coastal Health and BC Housing to co-ordinate care and support for the downtown eastside community.

Existing services have been sharply curtailed because of the Covid-19 virus, including places where people could get food or use the washroom. While the City has added 12 handwashing stations in the area, they have not provided any toilets for local residents to use.  Of the handwashing stations, four have already been stolen, and three have been recovered.

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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.

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I was talking with Gordon Price who is just finishing his Australian tour in Melbourne. We were discussing the AIDS epidemic where we first met. We  both worked on policy supporting people with AIDS and their families~I worked for Dr. John Blatherwick as a health planner and was on the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS.

Gordon Campbell was mayor and he formed a committee of  business leaders to bring the epidemic front and center  to Vancouver’s work community. This group travelled to San Francisco and experienced first hand the need for immediate specialized services, triage, housing and hospice.   In the early days of AIDS no one really knew how it was spread, causing a lot of fear and panic in the community.  AIDS also was a disease that did a zoonotic jump, from chimps to humans. Globally 32 million people have died from AIDS since the virus was first discovered.

AIDs had a different course in Vancouver than other major cities. The gay community came forward and formed several organizations to get the message out about how the virus was transmitted, and worked tirelessly to create specialized services and follow up. It was this active advocacy and continued strong consistent messaging that meant the disease was more contained in Vancouver. In the 1980’s AIDS  did not spread rapidly to other risk groups as other cities experienced.

The COVID-19 virus is also a zoonotic introduction, most probably from horseshoe bats. Like AIDS was perceived forty years ago, there is as of this date no known way to stop the course of the COVID-19  virus other than having a community agree to physically distance from each other. That seems to be challenging for many people.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart expressed frustration with the fact that citizens were still clustering and crowding in public spaces. Mayor Stewart stated on Sunday that people had to  “Shut down, stay put, save lives.”

The alternative would be an order that required people to stay in their residences. That would be all the time except for essential trips.

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It’s not “social distancing” it is “physical distancing” to have a bubble of  1.5 metres or six feet around you that is your safety zone during the COVID-19 crisis.

And there is a difference~physical distancing means that you can still walk around the neighbourhood, see if you can buy groceries for a neighbour,  and contact family and friends through technology.  It may make you communicate in ways that are unexpected, but there is still a social bond with people around you.

There are some remarkable stories coming out of physical distancing.  At 7 p.m every night residents in the west end come out on their balconies to cheer for the doctors and health care workers. This is part of a global initiative with its own hashtag #clapfordoctors.

There’s also the little home made lending  book  kiosks in neighbourhoods where people who leave a book can take a book; in some cases, residents have chosen to leave canned tins and food in these mini libraries so that everyone can be fed.

There are ads on CraigsList and Facebook Marketplace of volunteers willing to shop for and pick up groceries or go to the drugstore for people. Here’s an opportunity for the City of Vancouver to have staff remotely assist in the match up of  people that cannot get groceries and services with those that can. That can provide assistance at the neighbourhood level, and would be a well valued initiative.

Parents and families are also using the street differently too. In my neighbourhood the parents come out with lawn chairs and drinks every sunny afternoon. With the respect of necessary physical distance they  set up on the sun splashed part of the road.

With the current level of minimal traffic, kids in the neighbourhood can bike right around their block, something seen as unattainable when there was the normal heavier volume of vehicles at speed.

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This image is being circulated on social media as the artist Henri Matisse in bed with the flu. That may have been a bending of the truth to reflect the current Covid-19 Crisis, as Matisse who lived from 1869 to 1954 had an operation for  stomach cancer later in life that left him confined to bed or a chair. No longer able to stand to paint, he started to draw murals on his walls from his bed, and used that concept to have assistants make cut-outs that had a “distinct and dimensional complexity”.

With the colour, shape and form, those images are instantly recognizable as Matisse’s work today. There’s another message too~in the face of adversity and not being able to do the painting work that had been his passion, Matisse adapted to what he could do and created a new art form.

As Matisse said “There are always flowers for those who want to see them”.

 

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There are two places where COVID-19 has come and mostly gone, with minimal economic impacts. As reported by Tom Blackwell in  MSN.com Singapore and Taiwan approached COVID-19 in a different way. Singapore’s city state houses six million people, but as of last week had only 435 cases and zero mortalities. Taiwan has over 23 million people but only has 135 cases and 2 deaths. Schools and workplaces remained open during the crisis, meaning the economy did not take the kind of hit that the Canadian economy is experiencing.

How did they do this? Singapore and Taiwan achieved virus control by isolating people who may “have COVID-19, tightly controlling international travel and zealously pursuing those who had contact with the infected.”

Singapore used police officers to find potential COVID-19 contacts, and gave people in quarantine government issued cell phones for monitoring. Quarantined persons were required to send photos of their surroundings so that authorities knew they were staying in place.

Singapore also commenced health status screenings of all passengers arriving from Wuhan on January 3, and extended the screening to all passengers by February They also tested almost 2,200 people a day.

Taiwan allowed doctors and pharmacists access to the population’s recent travel histories as well as digital health files, allowing the tracing of potential carriers.  Anyone in quarantine risked heavy fines if they did not abide by it.

The difference appears to be attitudinal and also structural. Right from the beginning the COVID-19 pandemic was treated very seriously, as both countries were heavily impacted by the 2003 SARS outbreaks. Both countries set up national command centres, stockpiled medical supplies, and could quickly set up screening centres at shopping malls.

Both Singapore and Taiwan have a centralized government that provides universal health care, unlike Canada where there are thirteen different jurisdictions.

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