Public Space and Public Life during COVID 19

Author Gehl

Public space and public life has fundamentally shifted due to the COVID-19 crisis. This resource presents the findings from a research study conducted by Gehl, in collaboration with the City of Copenhagen and Realdania, into people’s changing uses and experiences of public spaces across four Danish cities. The report ultimately encourages people-first public spaces.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

Streets and squares, parks and playgrounds, are important features of our towns, cities, and neighbourhoods. They can help to encourage social interactions and foster people’s sense of wellbeing. However, as the authors observe, major global crises – from disease outbreaks to terrorist attacks – have long shaped the ways places are designed and experienced. The COVID-19 pandemic, and related societal and social changes such as lockdowns and physical distancing, has fundamentally impacted people’s experiences of public spaces around the world. This resource presents the findings from research conducted by Gehl - in collaboration with the City of Copenhagen and Realdania - into people’s changing experiences of public life and public spaces across four Danish cities during the pandemic.

As the authors explain, Denmark’s coronavirus strategy has been based on ‘trust and civic responsibility’, with public spaces seen as vital to ensuring people’s quality of life. Based on snapshot impressions of public life and surveys, the report reveals changes in both people’s activities in public spaces, as well as who is accessing public space in Denmark. This report, coupled with similar Gehl studies on public spaces featured in another High Streets Task Force resource, can help those wanting to learn more about how to design, plan, and/or manage people-first public spaces, for both short-term measures in the crisis and pre-recovery stages of the IPM’s COVID-19 Recovery Framework, and also to create sustainable and liveable places of the future.

Some key headline findings

  • Pedestrianised shopping streets have seen significant drops in pedestrians
  • Public spaces are being used more for recreation, play, and exercise
  • Peak daily activity within public spaces has changed, with smaller morning peaks
  • Popular public spaces are sometimes struggling to maintain physical distancing
  • Pedestrian movement is increasing in neighbourhoods outside of city centres
  • Walking and cycling have become more essential for moving through places.