With the onset of possibly the worst infectious disease after the Spanish Flu in the early 20th century; to say COVID 19 has shaken up the world as we know it would be a gross understatement. 

Historically, each time an infectious disease raged, people and their environment reacted to it a different way leading to a slow urban transformation: behavioral patterns as well as infrastructural changes. As life seems to have started to trickle back to its pre-lockdown pace (even though the numbers tell a different story), cities around the world are innovating to make the transition safe.

1. Street Markets: Mumbai, India

Due to the developing covid situation, it was important that its impact on people’s movement through the streets be thought upon and discussed by urban planners. Using a tactical urbanism approach, Bandra Collective (a collaborative of 6 architects and designers from Mumbai), has devised an economical, scalable and modular design intervention that can be adapted to various public spaces. The collaborative proposed a series of short term post lockdown initiatives to focus on. It comprises a grid of 6-foot circles painted different colours based on functionality (blue—pedestrian flow, yellow—waiting zone, green—sanitization stations) and other strategies to enable physical distancing like sanitization stations and planters as partitions. 

Besides physical measures, they have also proposed a simple location-based mobile application that tracks density to encourage citizens to make informed decisions. 

“To just put out signs with text is hugely ineffective. Instead, we believe that simple tactical design measures are more communicative in guiding people and have based the design of the modules on this understanding.” says Alan Abraham of Abraham John Architects. Grant road’s Bhaji Galli has seen the implementation of the first module: yellow distancing circles.

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The circles painted at Bhaji Galli, Grant Road ©www.mid-day.com

2. StoDistante: Vicchio, Italy

Intended as a temporary solution to ease into the post-lockdown world, the Italian architectural firm Caret Studio designed an installation called StoDistante (“I’m keeping my distance’ in Italian)at the Piazza Giotta in Vicchio, Italy. It features a 1.8m grid of white squares painted onto the cobbled square to visually demarcate the social distancing guidelines in the region. The grid outlines how people can safely navigate around the square and can be similarly used in various locations as a solution to reactivating public spaces safely. The founders of Caret Studio describe this installation as “a temporary solution for the conscious use of the public square under the country’s safety measures. As the rules of lockdown relaxed in a few weeks, the installation got used as a platform for citizens to reactivate through the open spaces.

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3. Cycling tracks: Bogota, Columbia

As the city that gave birth to the Ciclovia (a system of converting certain streets into automobile-free zones for cyclists and pedestrians) and is still shaped by the successful program that turns 120km of streets into a bicycle superhighway every Sunday; it doesn’t come as a surprise that Bogotá has turned to this well-developed network for aid during the pandemic. The Columbian capital has added nearly 22 kilometers of emergency bike lanes bringing the city’s network to over 600 kilometers.

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An emergency bike lane in Bogotá, Colombia, March 2020. ©www.iStock.com
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4. Hands-free play streets: New York City, USA

PLAY NYC is an initiative by Street Lab, a nonprofit organization that creates programs for public spaces across New York City that brings safe, hands-free play for children on closed-off streets in high-need NYC neighborhoods. The street furniture has been designed with industrial designer Hannah Berkin-Harper, including custom-designed benches that are hand-deployable and easy to disinfect. These streets will facilitate play and learning: story hour, street games, physical activities (obstacle course, maze, race track) overseen by Street Lab staff.

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5. The Gastro Safe Zone:  Brno, Czech Republic

In order to awaken the stagnant gastronomic businesses, Hua Hua Architects have put forward a proposal that regulates eating outdoors ensuring the required safety measures. Using a space grid of dining circles at specified distances, it transforms public spaces into safe and defined zones. Designed as a table for three, the dining sets can later be used as public furniture. With the first prototype installed in the streets of Brno in the Czech Republic, the design can be adopted in city squares around the world.  

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Nihitha recently graduated from architecture school and likes to ask rhetorical questions. Besides aggressively journaling, she likes a good romance or narrative history book, the rains and a steady supply of filter coffee to keep her company.

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