The public space innovations to keep an eye out for

This year has come with many unexpected changes for businesses and individuals worldwide, from restrictions to social distancing, to modified businesses operations, things are changing rapidly. These modifications have heavily impacted public spaces and how we utilise them, which is driving public space innovations.

A surge in foot traffic is driving change 

Although the management of foot traffic was required to contain the virus, it has resulted in the temporary closure of a variety of public spaces. As these spaces begin to reopen, there has been an increase in usage from previous years. Recent data published by Google, highlighted the increased use of parks worldwide (Goodier M, Rayman, J 2020).

Given the surge in usage, we wanted to share our predictions for the future of public spaces. We also wanted to consider how the needs of the community may change over time so plans can be made for the future.

Some of our key areas of focus are:

  • How can public spaces be conducive to social distancing and increased hygiene practices?
  • What is the ‘new COVID normal’ and how will it impact our parks and facilities?

In this post, we outline our predictions and plans for design, functionality, and material use.

 

What spaces should be modified to improve hygiene?

A common practice for the foreseeable future will be social distancing, this will drive a variety of changes in how we live our lives and how we utilise public spaces.

Our list of important spaces to flag for upgrades or modifications are:

Public toilets

A common issue with public toilets is that if outdated or poorly designed, they can become a breeding ground for bacteria that can be difficult to control. There are minor improvements that can be made, however in some circumstances, significant upgrades are required.

While it may not be practical to replace or upgrade all facilities, there are some small low-cost changes which can be made immediately which will reduce risk and improve user safety. These include:

  1. Placing handwashing facilities outside the building, this will prevent users from touching doors and handles after they have washed their hands.
  2. Installing kickplates on toilet doors so users don’t have to touch surfaces after washing hands
  3. Ensuring soap dispensers are located at every public toilet
  4. Installation of automated hand sanitisation stations externally

Earlier this year, we published an article on key public toilet design considerations, it includes several hygiene suggestions. If you’re planning a new public amenities facility worth reading, you can find it here.

Hospitality Venues

The hospitality industry has suffered throughout the pandemic; with venues converting to offering take-away or contactless delivery only. This resulted in a significant decrease in revenue for these businesses, with some venues permanently closing.

One solution to this problem is Alfresco dining, otherwise known as outdoor dining or footpath trading. It allows patrons to dine outside the venue, decreasing the risk for community transmission in comparison with traditional indoor dining. This modification will benefit small businesses which are currently operating at a limited capacity. Outdoor dining also permits some venues to utilise previously untapped laneway space to provide dining or entertainment options for patrons.


Image source: City of Yarra 2020

Earlier this month, it was announced that Piano Bar was converting Minns Place Laneway in Central Geelong into an entertainment venue. A great initiative, that will see the community able to celebrate music and entertainment once again.

We predict that we’ll continue to see innovations like this one as businesses and communities navigate their way out of lockdown. For more information on this project, you can read the full article by The City of Greater Geelong here.

 

For venues adapting outdoor dining, the infrastructure required will see streets putting pedestrian access ahead of car access. This will pave the way for retailers to expand their offering without being limited to their storefront.

Note: At the time of posting the Victorian government has just highlighted alfresco dining as a key strategy in the re-opening of the hospitality industry.

Playgrounds and Fitness Stations

Playgrounds are known to spread germs among children who can then unknowingly spread them to older members of the community. Some playgrounds and fitness stations will require significant design changes to prevent the spreading of germs within the community. There tend to be limited hand washing facilities near playground areas, this is an element we anticipate will change quickly.

Image source: ASCO Group, 2020

Currently, the onus is on parents to be equipped with hand sanitiser and wipes to ensure children’s hands are sanitised after playing. This can be difficult for visitors to the area, or for those making unplanned visits to the playground.

We predict state and local governments will take further steps to increase hygiene levels within these spaces to prevent further outbreaks.

Going forward, we’d like to see playgrounds fenced off, and fitted with sanitiser dispensers at entry and exit points, with access to the playground being granted upon use of the hand sanitiser. This would increase hygiene and safety standards for the children using these playgrounds.

Fitness stations are primarily used by adults, given that they tend to be spread out we expect to see an increase in hand sanitisation stations posted nearby. The onus will then be on the users to ensure they are sanitising their hands before and after use.

Public BBQ and picnic facilities

Public spaces with BBQ and picnic facilities attract heavy foot traffic during the school holidays and summer months. Communities are being encouraged to congregate outdoors as indoor spaces can increase the potential for transmission of the Corona Virus. As a result, these spaces are seeing an increase in demand as other spaces such as cinemas and indoor dining will be limited.

As congregating in big groups is being discouraged, we’re hoping to see parks establishing a variety of smaller picnic areas spread further apart. These smaller picnic areas can be defined with plantings and landscaping, creating zones within the park, benefiting the environment and the community. The below is an example of how cities could approach social distancing in heavily populated public spaces. The sectioning of picnic areas is being trialled in a variety of spaces throughout the world.


Image Source: Connected Places Catapult, 2020

Locally, this practice is being trialled at Customs Park in Geelong, Victoria on a slightly smaller scale. On September 25th the City of Greater Geelong announced it would be trialling circular markings in the 800 square meter grassed area to allow users to enjoy the park while maintaining a safe distance from others. You can find the offical announcement on their website here

The simultaneous sharing of communal picnic facilities between different groups will also decrease.

We anticipate changes being made to drinking fountains in parks and community spaces, there will likely be a decrease in demand for standard drinking fountains and an increased demand for bottle refilling facilities instead.

Pathways and trails

Due to restrictions, more people are conducting their daily exercise outside instead of at a fitness facility, resulting in an increased demand for pathways and trails. With some parks closed to prevent congregation, daily exercise has transitioned to walking, running, or cycling on local trails and pathways.

Image Source: ASCO Group 2015

Social interactions have also shifted towards going for walks with friends instead of going out or inviting them into your home, this has resulted in a surge of foot traffic on trails across the country. This surge could be in part due to the Australian Department of Health’s recommendations and suggestions for park-related activities on their website (Australian Government Department of Health, 2020). You can find their official recommendations on their website here.

As a result, we’ll see upgrades made to a variety of trails to meet the increased demand. These will include improved and expanded bicycle parking facilities and additional lanes with protection from vehicle traffic and more public amenities. There will also be the establishment of new trails and potentially the addition of fitness equipment, stretching stations and drink bottle refill stations.

Material changes

Many picnic tables and seats are constructed with materials such as timber, which can be difficult to sanitise and keep bacteria-free.


Image Source: ASCO Group 2016

As a result, we predict more communities will opt to use impermeable surfaces, which are much easier to sanitise than timber is. This will result in higher hygiene standards for those who use them, it will also simplify cleaning and maintenance processes of public furniture.

Materials such as anodised aluminium present an ideal solution. Given the Australian climate, surfaces which can become quite hot in summer. To ensure user comfort, a silver anodised surface will reflect heat, whereas a darker colour seat plank will absorb heat and become uncomfortable.

 

Things will change… but how quickly?

Long-term planning
Some of the anticipated changes we’ve highlighted will require significant infrastructure development, which can be costly and take time to plan and execute. In these areas forward planning and preparation is key, some of these projects may include:

  1. Replacement or establishment of public amenities facilities
  2. Re-design or replacement of playground areas
  3. Park refurbishments including landscaping to optimise communal spaces
  4. Pavement expansions to allow for alfresco dining and increased pedestrian thoroughfares
  5. Development of additional walking and cycling trails
  6. Extensive bus shelter upgrades

Although essential for the future these projects can be a significant investment, in some cases they can take 3-6 months to complete. There are however some cost-effective changes communities can make in the short term.

 

Short-term solutions
There are some solutions which can be implemented quickly with minimal investment and this may be all that’s required. In other cases, these modifications can act as temporary solutions until a more significant upgrade or investment can be made.

  1. Placing hand washing facilities external to each toilet building
  2. Fencing off playgrounds with sanitisation stations at the entry and exit points
  3. Installation of modular/temporary parklets that can be placed in car parks to convert them to alfresco dining areas.

 

Want specific advice on which changes your community will need?
You can reach out to us here, we’re here to help bring comfortable and practical solutions to your community.

 

References:

Australian Government Department of Health, 2020, ’Exercising and staying active during coronavirus COVID-19 restrictions’, retrieved 1 October 2020, < https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/ongoing-support-during-coronavirus-covid-19/exercising-and-staying-active-during-coronavirus-covid-19-restrictions>.

ASCO Group, 2020, ‘Strathdale Playspace’, retrieved 30 September 2020, ASCO Projects, < https://ascogroup.com.au/projects/strathdale-playspace/>.

City of Yarra, 2020, ‘Footpath trading’, retrieved 30 September 2020, < https://www.yarracity.vic.gov.au/services/business-in-yarra/permits>.

City of Greater Geelong, 2020, ‘Piano Bar takes to the laneways’, Geelong Australia, retrieved 1 October 2020, <https://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/news/item/8d863905ebdea0e.aspx?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=orgsocial>.

Connected Places Catapult, 2020, ‘Innovation Brief: Post-Pandemic Public Space’, Medium, retrieved 16 October 2020, <https://medium.com/connectedplaces/post-pandemic-public-space-384302f9ba21>.

Goodier M, Rayman, J 2020, ‘Covid-19 is highlighting cities’ unequal access to green space’, CityMetric, retrieved 30 September 2020, < https://www.citymetric.com/fabric/covid-19-highlighting-cities-unequal-access-green-space-5168>.