ULI. The pandemic and the public realm. Global innovations for health, social equity and sustainability
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through U.S. cities, sparking widespread lockdowns and other public health measures.
Around the world, cities were confronting the same crisis and learning how to keep their residents safe. As a growing evidence base showed that outdoor
spaces—when combined with social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands—were less risky than indoor spaces, the public realm became an increasingly important part of pandemic life. Parks quickly became crowded, and bicycle sales skyrocketed.
Cities looked to their public spaces to address these new challenges and meet changing needs. Whether creating public art to share COVID-19
safety information in Nairobi, opening streets to pedestrian and cyclist use in Oakland, or drawing social distancing circles at a park in Brooklyn,
cities experimented with quick but often significant changes to the public realm as part of their pandemic response.
The Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative profiled more than 30 of these approaches to the public realm during the pandemic from
across the globe. The examples illuminate how cities can innovate with low-cost, immediately responsive, and creative interventions that promote health and social equity.