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Speaking at Day 1

Opening Panel: Reframing the Role of Public Space in the Age of Pandemics

Setha Low
Director, Public Space Research Group, Center for Human Environments at the Graduate Center of City University of New York, USA

Setha Low received her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. She trains Ph.D. students in the anthropology of space and place, urban anthropology, the anthropology of the body, and cultural values in historic preservation. She is also director of the GC’s Public Space Research Group. She has been awarded a Getty Fellowship, an NEH fellowship, a Fulbright Senior Fellowship, and a Guggenheim for her ethnographic research on public space in Latin America and the United States. She was president of the American Anthropological Association from 2007 to 2009.
 
Her current research is on the impact of private governance on New York City co-ops and condominiums, and she is writing a book titled “Spatializing Culture: An Anthropological Theory of Space and Place.” In 2009 she began a collaborative project with Dolores Hayden on spatial methods and public practices, funded by the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and in 2010 she was a fellow in the Center for Place, Culture and Politics. In 2011 she became cochair of the Public Space and Diversity Network, funded by the Max Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity. Most recently, she received funding from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to study condominiums and private governance in Toronto and New York with Randy Lippert.

Without third places and public spaces where people come into regular contact with others outside their circle thinking can metastasize from prudent public health advice to paranoia and prejudice. Coronavirus not only challenges our physical, mental and economic health, but social justice principles and social health.

Insight from "Reframing the Role of Public Space during and after the COVID-19 Pandemic"

Setha acutely pointed out how distribution of COVID cases were lower in wealthier neighborhoods like Manhattan, Park Slope, Carol Gardens in Brooklyn as compared to outer boroughs where more people of color, lower income individuals, African-Americans and Latinos live, reflecting the inequality of access to health care. Some wealthier New Yorkers who own second homes also decided to escape smaller towns’ vacation homes and suburbs, leading neighbouring states to impose roadblocks and self-quarantine measures. COVID has become an issue of social injustice and racism within New York City, an “us versus them” issue. Many have overlooked people who cannot shelter in place, such as essential workers (mostly African-Americans and Latino) who still have to go to work and use the subways, and are labelled as dangerous. Homeless slept in subways since they were scared of the density of shelters during COVID, they were ‘swept out of subway stations’. New York is opening up 7 miles of streets and aiming at 100 miles, but it is unclear whether the streets opening are evenly distributed, as bigger public spaces in the city are situated in wealthy neighbourhoods.