Studies into public space usage during COVID-19 (Gehl People)
These two studies, conducted by Gehl People, explore people’s changing experiences of public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic: the first based on observations of public space usage across five neighbourhoods in New York; and the second, a global survey into public space usage during the crisis completed by over 2,000 respondents, spanning 68 countries.
Observations of public space usage in New York - Click to access resource one [external site - new window]
Global survey on public space usage - Click to access resource two [external site - new window]
Public space is an integral feature of our towns and cities. This resource contains key findings from two studies conducted by Gehl People into people’s changing experiences of public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic: the first based on observations of public space usage across five neighbourhoods in New York; and the second, a global survey into public space usage during the crisis completed by over 2,000 respondents, spanning 68 countries.
As the Institute of Place Management’s (IPM) ‘25 priorities’ show, accessible and walkable places with ease of connectivity, potential for linked trips, and attractive recreational spaces, are vital to place experience. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up some new challenges about how public spaces can be managed to ensure the health and wellbeing of users, with social distancing, pinch points and pedestrian flow more important than ever. There is evidence of places around the world engaging in tactical urbanism - creative, low-cost, bottom-up placemaking interventions - to create safer public realm for pedestrians and cyclists, such as Bogota creating 47 miles of temporary bike lanes. Yet the pandemic landscape does not stand still; it is ever-changing. As Adriana Akers (Gehl People Project Manager) observes, “to manage public spaces in an ever shifting ‘new normal’, cities will need flexible strategies to prioritize interventions that have the most impact”. This resource, therefore, will help those involved in managing public space in forming these flexible strategies, and navigating through to the recovery stage of the IPM’s COVID-19 Recovery Framework, as increasing numbers of people begin to use public spaces once again.
Some headline findings:
New York study - most people are using streets and sidewalks for ‘essential’ activities, such as waiting in line for groceries; whereas, in parks 46% of people were observed conversing with others at a safe distance. The importance of parks to reducing isolation and sociality was therefore made clear. Place leaders will have to consider how this socialising in public space might be maintained for mental wellbeing, yet managed safely.
New York study - whilst social distancing was more easily maintained when waiting in line for groceries, for example, it became more difficult when people were moving through public spaces. Place leaders will need to collaboratively form strategies to reduce issues around narrow pavements and pinch points at park entrances, by widening pedestrian walkways and access points, especially as places become busier again.
Global survey - when venturing outdoors, the majority of people surveyed are sticking to their local neighbourhood streets (87%), grocery stores (72%), and parks (67%). However, 91% of people have experienced crowding in these spaces, especially in and around local stores (59%) and local parks (32%). Stakeholders managing these places, therefore, need to consider how to reduce these pinch points and implement measures to enhance pedestrian flow and reduce overcrowding, so that people are able to move through places safely (e.g. expanding number of entrances, pavement widening, parking lane closures etc.)
Global survey - echoing pre-covid ideas about reaching ‘peak car’, with evidence of falling driving licenses and car sales, people have been walking more and driving less. It has been found that 66% of people are now walking more, 59% of people are driving less, and 66% of people are using taxis less than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Place leaders, therefore, need to think about how public spaces can be made safer for pedestrians, by potentially introducing traffic calming measures and/or reallocating space away from cars to people.
 Gehl People. 23rd April 2020. “Managing public space in the ‘new normal’”. Gehl People. Accessible via: https://gehlpeople.com/blog/managing-public-space-in-the-new-normal/
 Gehl People. 7th May 2020. “Public space plays vital role in pandemic”. Gehl People. Accessible via: https://gehlpeople.com/blog/public-space-plays-vital-role-in-pandemic/
 Institute of Place Management. (2019). “High street changes update 25 factors”. IPM News. Accessible via: https://www.placemanagement.org/news/high-street-changes-update-25-factors/.
 Ntounis, N, Sonderland Saga, R, Loronõ-Leturiondo, M, Hindmarch, T, and Parker, C. (2020). “The Time to Act is Now: A Framework for Post-COVID19 Recovery for our Towns and Cities”. Institute of Place Management Blog. Accessible via: http://blog.placemanagement.org/2020/04/02/the-time-to-act-is-now-a-framework-for-post-covid-19-recovery-for-our-towns-and-cities/.
Bloomberg. (2017). “This is what peak car looks like”. Bloomberg. Accessible via: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-02-28/this-is-what-peak-car-looks-like