This article originally appeared in Design Equilibrium 2021, released March 2021.
Remember your crowded office? Happy hours, classrooms, and “normal” times are a distant memory. COVID-19 isn’t eliminating your office or university, but it is changing the way they are designed. More specifically, the pandemic is changing how people can congregate safely. Recent Centers for Disease Control guidelines recommend hosting large gatherings outdoors. Still, events must implement physical distancing. Due to COVID-19, outdoor space is essential, but these valuable spaces are often reduced, eliminated, or a complete afterthought in the design process. Landscape architects see this pandemic as a call to action. Now is the time to reinforce the value outdoor space brings to the community’s overall health and its benefits for the built environment.
Access to outdoor environments has a direct effect on our public health. Fresh air, places to walk, play, and exercise benefit both mental and physical wellbeing. A renewed focus on outdoor space had a similar revival during and after the cholera epidemic of 1832. The first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, designed New York City’s Central Park as the “lungs of the city” following his son’s death from the disease. Its design is vital to New York’s overall sanitation and adds green space.
COVID-19 should prompt today’s designers to consider outdoor space and public health together. Separating places to run, walk, bike, and exercise away from urban pollution is an easy solution to bolster the surrounding region’s overall health. While creating space for exercise can be incredibly difficult in a dense city, urban infill and pocket parks are excellent opportunities to squeeze valuable outdoor space. One example is the Walden Athletic Complex, located along Freedom Parkway in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood. Found on the long-vacant Walden Middle School Site, the Atlanta Public School facility boasts a state-of-the-art multipurpose turf field, regulation baseball/softball field, and concessions facilities for athletes. After opening in 2018, intermural soccer teams and the community at large now use the site. Infill projects offer public and private versatility that can significantly benefit communities, providing urban escapes that get people outside and moving.