Public open space is no magic pudding!
Lessons from the “Coronacise” phenomenon
Posted on 20.07.2020
Imagine you have been working from home for the last three days and your computer screen is burned into the back of your retina. It was great at first, but you just have to “get out” for some air. You leave your six-story apartment for the closest park.
The streets are so much busier in your local area now that apartments are sprouting up everywhere, coupled with the recent working from home trend. It is actually getting difficult to walk down the street. The local park is not far away but when you get there it is full of people and there are no seats. The walking paths are overflowing with people, kids on bikes, mothers with prams, walkers, talkers and more. You try a short run but spend more time dodging than running. You trudge back to the apartment not really fulfilled with the experience.
The lingering effects of Coronavirus have changed the structure of our working day and our leisure time. Workers and managers have realised the benefits of working from home. With the increased number of people now working from home on a more regular basis, demand has increased for locally accessible outdoor activity and exercise. The shortcomings of our existing urban infrastructure are becoming evident.
The massive increases in people exercising outdoors and using their local parks and public spaces, is what we have termed the “Coronacise” phenomenon (Coronavirus induced exercise). The pressure on our open spaces has illuminated the shortcomings of past planning. Planning that may not have adequately considered the capacity of our parks and public spaces to accommodate growth in population and demand.
Public open space and density
Increasing urban density in our town centres is amplifying the impact of this “shortcoming”. In Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, state level planning is specifying substantial densification within inner city areas and key centres. Increasing density can have many benefits as it makes better use of existing infrastructure, improves access to different transport options, adds vibrancy to our local areas and supports local economies. While planning for increased urban density has improved considerably in recent years, yet issues with public open space planning are still emerging.
The key concern is that higher density communities can be short changed. Existing parks and public spaces are often treated as if they were a “magic pudding”- endlessly able to meet the needs of an expanding population.
There are many things to consider with densification: “hard” infrastructure needs – water, schools, traffic, as well as “urban health infrastructure” – the spaces and places for people to reconnect with nature, get outdoors, exercise and maintain their well-being. Public open space often attracts strong “aspiration” in development strategies but poor delivery on the ground …
Coronacise has highlighted a less exposed planning issue and has provided an opportunity to illustrate the problem. Our neighbourhoods suddenly had less cars, and more people outside. The thousands of locals looking for space to exercise put the spotlight on the shortcomings of urban and open space planning and has shown the dangers of a “magic pudding” approach that ignores capacity.
It also seems to have brought many to the realisation that a fundamental basis of successful cities is public open space and active transport networks for recreation. This critical infrastructure should underpin our urban planning. Central to this is an understanding of demand and capacity. Otium Planning Group and MR Cagney have begun collaboration on the development of demographic and spatial analysis tools to improve this understanding. If you would like to contribute or know more, please contact the authors.
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