by Teun Castelein & Sasja Strengholt
A quiet city, paralysed by unforeseen circumstances, offers time for reflection on current social systems and attitudes to public space. How do we use parks, playgrounds, benches, and pavements when we have to stay 1.5 metres apart? Can sidewalks become a place for education, or an extension of theatres? Can squares provide an alternative stage for cultural institutions?
The absence of everyday hustle and bustle has made creative interventions in the city all the more striking. Skaters take over the deserted city centre; artists produce temporary installations, pieces thanking healthcare workers, and repurposed posters for cancelled exhibitions. Figures such as Dadara, Teun Castelein and FAKE reflect on how this is affecting them, using public space as a canvas for a physical trace that can be experienced spatially or digitally.
And how do we retain ownership of our city after the lockdown? The pandemic creates a collective sense of solidarity: we may not all be in the same boat, but we are weathering the same storm. As the restrictions are eased, so the pressure on public areas becomes immediately noticeable, with restaurants and sports clubs jostling for space and parks overflowing. The challenge is to preserve room for everyone, and designers, artists and architects are already experimenting with ways of making this a reality and creating a safely distanced collective experience.
These examples range from the imaginative reuse of existing spaces to the shaping of new ones. All share the same sense of ownership in their interpretation of the city, regarding Amsterdam not just as one big pavement café, but as a diverse, multifaceted and creative environment that belongs to everyone.