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Pop Up Parks and Social Distance Design - Inspirational Design Ideas for the Pandemic and Beyond

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Blog Series #1

The pandemic has made such a profound disruption in our society. We are now faced with finding ideas to solve many new problems, the biggest being social distancing. Designers are needed more than ever to step up and develop new tools for redesigning systems to sustain our society thru the future with more equity and thoughtfulness.

Now that we are knee deep in the problem, we have to start asking ourselves, "Where do we go from here?". Since we are in the playground business we naturally start to think about how playgrounds and community gathering spaces will look in the future. Will social distancing be with us for the next 6 months? 1 year? Or longer? How do we incorporate social distancing into playgrounds when everything we've ever stood for screams to do the opposite? Playgrounds are meant to bring communities together, children of all abilities together, and families together. How do we, literally, change course and design parks and communities spaces that keep people apart? Seems like a big challenge to think of new ways to look at social distancing play. We need to figure out ways to obtain the social connection while social distancing. We need to bring communities together in a different way. But how?

“Planners talk about creating 'sticky' streets -- places where people linger and stay around. So the question now is: Will those efforts continue, or how will they need to be changed? Can we still achieve connectivity if we all keep social distancing?”


Miracle Approved Social Distance Designs

Our team of in-house designers have been experimenting with ideas and options to offer our clients in this new age of social distancing. We've collaborated on many ideas over the last few months and have come up with some ways to work around these new challenges. One of the first ideas we had was to develop some social distance designs that make it easy to incorporate more play and gathering spaces into our communities and schools. We call these designs "Miracle Approved Social Distance Designs". We came up with some criteria for these new designs that allow for social circle distance circulation. Some of the criteria we see necessary are:

  1. Design supports small group instruction

  2. Design includes antimicrobial paint

  3. Design supports small group play with no more than 5 users at a time

  4. Design allows for mobile and flexible use with parts that can be relocated or deployed on a temporary basis (Pop-up Park/Parklet)

  5. Design allows for routine removal and relocation for easy maintenance, sanitizing and cleaning

Our team of in-house designers have come up with some simple design pods that could easily be added to a park, school or public space. Check out more designs HERE!


Pop Up Park Pods

After we began moving on developing some social distance design packages we thought of another way to utilize our equipment offerings to the communities we service. The idea of a Pop Up Park Pod came to us after learning of many cities closing off their streets to create more space for physical distancing for those exploring their communities during the pandemic lock down. With so many parks, playgrounds and sports courts closed, these cities decided to give their communities more space to explore more comfortably and safely by closing streets to thru traffic. Our hometown, the City of Oakland, implemented what they call a Slow Streets Program on 4/11/2020. The program is intended to support safe physical activity by creating more space for physical distancing for all Oaklanders by declaring that all Slow Streets with and without soft closure barriers are Closed to Thru Traffic so that people can more comfortably use these low-traffic streets for physically distant walking, wheelchair rolling, jogging and biking all across the City.

So we thought, "What if there was a way to bring more opportunities for play to these communities that have expanded their pedestrian accessible spaces?". We came up with the concept for a "Miracle Pop Up Park" that we could offer to our communities to set up on these opened "Slow Streets". What a great way to expand play and spread out the city's park systems by temporarily adding more play space! We believe adding these "Pop Up Parks" will lead to less dense congregation at the local parks and playgrounds which makes social distancing obtainable.

Our "Miracle Pop Up Park" design gives you an idea of how it will look when set up. This design is overlaid onto a real street in Oakland, Alice Street, which is part of the "Slow Street" project.

Miracle Pop Up Park Example: Before Alice Street Closure

Miracle Pop Up Park Example: After Street Closure

The "Miracle Pop Up Park" design can be broken out into smaller pods or combined together for a larger street space.


Don't Close Parks, Open Up Streets

Closing off streets to traffic and opening them up for people to spread out and safely enjoy the outdoors during the pandemic is nothing new. An article in the Atlantic gives an example of how earlier this month, New York announced that during the weekend it will close to traffic just seven of the 6,000 miles of city streets. It aims to get up to 100 miles by summer - barely 1 percent of the area available.

People are not brazenly seeking out crowded parks during a pandemic. People are going outside because they have no other place to go. If given the option, people would not be crowded together—and that option exists.


A Defining Moment for Design

In the first days and weeks of the crisis, we observed designers jumping in wherever they could help. Creative solutions to urgent problems began to appear from new designs for PPE to re-purposing production lines to manufacture ventilators, masks and protective screens. Over the coming months and years more design will be necessary as we leave our homes and reoccupy the world. We will have to design new ways to work together, to learn together, to play together, and to be healthy.

For more information on the role designers will play in developing sustainable development goals for our communities to build a kind of resilience that we need to survive future systemic shocks, check out The Design Vanguard website. The Design Vanguard was first convened in 2018 when they brought together many of those working on the edge of design and social impact.

The Design Vanguard believes there will be countless more inspiring and instructive projects and that there will be great value in gathering, tracking, and sharing these stories. They will act as inspiration for others and evidence that investing in design capacity is an essential ingredient in a future we wish to inhabit. They've already gathered 100 such projects and stories. There will surely be more and they want to hear about them, to record them for history and future study, and to be proud together.




More BLOGS in our Series

"Inspirational Design Ideas for the Pandemic and Beyond"

Check back soon for more Inspirational BLOGS including: Outdoor Learning Designs and Parklets!

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