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Ensuring safety and keeping the joy alive: Reopening the recreational spaces as lockdown eases

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Public recreational spaces including parks, beaches, playgrounds, community centers etc. play a very important role in the social life of communities. They have also been studied as a shared resource in which experiences and value is created by the community. They provide opportunities for social interaction, social mixing and social inclusion and contribute to community building and development of strong community ties.

Parks and beaches are generally used by the local communities as well as tourists for exercising, picnics and other recreational activities. During the lockdown, as per advisory around social distancing, limited access to these places have been allowed. While some countries completely restricted access, others moderated the usage based on the extent of risk in the areas.

As some parts of the world move towards easing out of Lockdown, what happens to the access to public parks, beaches and other recreational public spaces? How would these places be used while maintaining social distancing? Will the joy of being at these places be the same or will there be fear of disease spread?

Public parks have played a vital role in building healthy and stable communities. Parks provide an opportunity of exposure to the nature that encourages people to exercise and improves psychological and social health of communities. In lockdown, during the Covid-19 pandemic people were seen using these spaces for exercise and maintaining in the otherwise stressful and uncertain environment. However, there is a need to reimagine how some of these places might look in the future to adjust to our new normal and conducive to practicing social distancing. It is important to quickly adopt certain interventions, within the given setups, that would help individuals/communities to practice social distancing while utilizing these spaces. As these spaces are re-opening, they are making some changes in their usage. Some of them are listed below.

Visual Cues for Better Communication

The CDC has advised maintaining a minimum of 2 meters of distance between persons to ensure safety in the current environment. Though the communication is short and clear, it isn’t very intuitive for the human mind to translate this into behaviour. National parks in Australia have used visual cues to communicate this message using Australia’s iconic animal – Kangaroo.

Parks in New York and San Francisco have marked circles in the park to encourage proper social distancing while people enjoyed summer afternoons in the parks.

Another design solution to this problem has been developed by a London-based designer Paul Cocksedge. He has designed a blanket that provides a visual cue to understand what two meters or six feet means (as shown in the image). The design is available online for download and can help in maintaining the required distance while enjoying the parks, beaches and other places.

Restricting Closeness between Visitors

Another local level intervention has been adopted by the Bannerghatta biological park in India. Earlier visitors were given umbrellas by the authorities to shield themselves from the heat. The authorities are planning to use the same umbrellas to ensure they do not come closed to each other and break the social distancing rules. These images are from the mock drill conducted to ensure strict implementation.

Removing Benches to Avoid Transmission

Cities have removed benches from parks and boardwalks on beaches to reduce virus transmission by touch. They also argued that the benches encouraged strangers to sit in close proximity which was against the social distancing rules.

Marking Private Spaces on a Public Beach

Individuals and local authorities have been creating physical demarcations on the beach sand to divide the space for use while maintaining social distancing. While some induvial used Seaweed in Miami, to make blocks and marking their area. These boundaries acted as barriers for other individuals restricting them to come closer than what is recommended for social distancing.

Beaches in Italy and Spain have set up ropes to divide areas on the sand with ropes to create designated spaces for people. In spain, these slots can be prebooked through an app. While these ropes set up physical barriers between individuals, it also ensures psychological barriers and communicates risk perception outside of the marked territory. In Greece, there are restrictions on the number of beachgoers as well. The number must not exceed 40 people per 1000 sq. metres.

While it is important to keep individuals well distanced, it is also important to ensure the vulnerable population separate from others. Spanish beaches have gone a step forward and separated zones for families with children, adults without children and the elderly to create safe environments as per WHO guidelines.

Health Screenings and Signages

Most public spaces have thermal screenings and signages that help in maintaining the perceived risk in the communities. Some places are also levying fines to the defaulters.

Reimagining and Redesigning the Future

The current designs of the parks have not been constructed to ensure social distancing just by their design. Experts suggests that the social distancing might continue till 2022. A studio, based out of Austria has put forward a vision of what it might look like to build parks in a post coronavirus world that by design could ensure social distancing. The design is a maze like pattern with walls of massive shrubs. The studio explains in a statement, "Like a fingerprint, parallel lanes guide visitors through the undulating landscape. Every lane has a gateway on the entrance and exit, which indicates if the path is occupied or free to stroll. The lanes are distanced 240cm from each other and have a 90cm wide hedge as a division.”

As lockdowns are lifting up in other countries, these spaces and their usage will evolve. While it is important to make these spaces conducive to maintain social distancing, it is also important to ensure that the essence of the parks and beaches is not lost. While planning for reopening, the following should be considered:

1. Leverage Intrinsic Motivation vs Anticipated Punishment to Ensure Compliance

As we move towards easing out of the lockdown, ensuring community compliance with the advisory and rules might be challenging. Most governments are leveraging anticipated punishment for non-compliance in the form of fines and restricting access. However, as these restrictions are for their personal health, it would be ideal to leverage individuals’ intrinsic motivation for compliance. Positively reinforcing the socially, culturally and morally desirable actions would increase the compliance of behaviours.

2. Managing Fear and Ensuring Safety

The increasing number of cases and the risky environment has instilled deep seated fear in the communities. Altering public spaces to ensure safety and incorporating designs that communicate safe environments are a way to manage fear for community members. For example, some spaces have started regulating the number of visitors at one time, thermal screenings at the entrance, and regular sanitization of furniture.

3. Visual Cues to Communicate Advisory

Some beaches have adopted visual cues to distance people and ensure social distancing. It is important to provide more intuitive communication that is easy to interpret and adopt. For example, ‘Distance between two people must that of a kangaroo.’

4. Maintaining Risk Perception

In public spaces it is important to communicate the perceived risk and maintain proximity to risk. People must not feel that the opening up of parks and beaches means that there is no longer risk of infection.

5. Increase Trust in Systems

As lockdown eases and public spaces re-open, communities must feel safe and understand that the change and restrictions are for their safety. City councils must adopt strategies to build trust within communities to ensure compliance. Trust can be build by increasing their control in decision making, for example, community engagement in planning and establishing ways to deal with the new normal.


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