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Jose Chong
Global Public Space Programme, Planning Finance and Economy Section
Urban Practices Branch, Global Solutions Division
UN-Habitat, United Nations Human Settlements Programme
Insight from "Reframing the Role of Public Space during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic"

Jose pinpointed how the virus is spreading in cities, with 95% of total cases took place in urban areas. Yet, physical distancing and sanitation are impossible for certain parts of the population, those living in informal settlements (1 billion), overcrowded and inadequate housing (1.8 billion), and 2.4 billion who lack access to safe water and sanitation. We have to remember that there are three crises happening at the same time. Thus, UN-Habitat has developed three tracks of responses: health, humanitarian, and socio-economic to support governments in informal settlement, provide accurate data for decision-making, and motivate the economy.

Public space is a threat to urban health, but has also proven to be a critical infrastructure for operation and well-being.

Short-term interventions:

  • Recognize public spaces as an important asset during crises and for livelihoods for low-income populations. Make an inventory of public spaces and facilities.

  • Repurpose land allocated to streets to allow physical distancing and non-motorized mobility and activities. 

  • Maintain multi-functional and flexible public open spaces that can adapt to urgent demands.

  • Public facilities can provided essential services required for marginalized communities 


Medium and long-term interventions:

  • Ensure equitable distribution of public spaces across the city and at neighbourhood scale. 

  • Plan for self-sufficient neighborhood, e.g. Paris’s 15-minute city concept

  • Pay attention to urban design, furniture materials, management and maintenance

  • Utilize open space for recovery of public life and well-being through community engagement, placemaking, and participatory processes.


Now is a paradigm shift on city building, an opportunity to collaborate to re-think how cities should be. It is a chance to reposition health at the center of urban development that promotes integrated and collaborative response from governments and communities.

Speaking at Day 2 

Roundtable Discussion and Closing Remarks: 2020 Reflection and outlook after a year without public space

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