Editor note: Updated October 28, 2021. This article will continue to evolve.

Over the past year, the pandemic and accompanying economic free-fall has disrupted almost everything about our lives, including the social connections we depend upon for survival and happiness.

The big idea here is to maintain a flourishing social life under a challenging new set of conditions. This means a whole range of innovative practices, habits and designs that capitalize on community members own knowledge about life in their hometowns.

Each of these examples of different aspects of our daily life can be implemented gradually under slow loosening of Covid-19 requirements. Understanding what each example might become can give hope for everyone as we seek a better future.

1. Reconnecting after the Pandemic

In order to reconnect, people need to be seen, heard and empathize with each other. That can happen with a nod, wink, smile, a few nice words, a casual remark, or a short conversation. These important connections not only strengthen relationships but encourage people to keep working together to overcome this catastrophe.

How Social Life Endures Amid the Pandemic in Italy
Ironically, a lively social life in a community makes physical distancing more effective

2. Use Sidewalks to Restore Social Connections

This idea is limited by the fact that sidewalks in many cities are too small, barely giving folks enough room to pass each other. One bold idea, based on successes already underway, is to reapportion one-third of the streets in a city to be vehicle-free, another third shared equally between vehicles and people on foot or bikes, and the last third primarily for vehicle traffic. The result, is that sidewalks could be immediately doubled in size, parking could move out further from the curb to allow more room encouraging physical distancing and social connections.

Creating the Streets and Sidewalks We Love - Shifting Our Focus From Cars to People
Paradigm-shattering change will happen when streets, sidewalks and intersections are transformed into community gathering spots through the simple act of giving human beings priority over motor vehicles.

3. Bring the Inside Out at Retail Stores and Restaurants

Stores and restaurants in many cities and neighborhoods are already using their sidewalks for their businesses. Many shops are displaying foods, along with stations for takeaway items. Some are even expanding sidewalk pedestrian space into the streets themselves, so that restaurants can use extended curbs not only for outdoor seating but to reconnect the community with local businesses.

Let’s Turn Buildings Inside-Out
Bringing the inside out onto the sidewalk blurs the lines between public and private space, creating one dynamic, thriving ecosystem.

4. Bring the "Inside Out" at Public Buildings

Working in partnership with the broader community, public spaces around government buildings, religious institutions, schools and cultural centers could all be used more constructively. These buildings could become places for small exhibitions (such as students displaying their artwork ), games, classes and gathering spots. For example, since the road was closed along the right bank of the River Seine, a month-long event called the Paris Plage has run during the summer and it has been expanded and improved every year. The event was initiated on the Plaza in front of the City Hall ( Hotel de Ville).

Turn Places “Inside Out” to Revive Social Connection and Local Economies
Thresholds where storefronts and buildings connect with the sidewalk —is the place to reunite communities and jump-start local economies after these long, hard months.
Library on the Seine - Paris Plage

5. Locate Seating, Art and Amenities — Anywhere and Everywhere

By building on the unique assets that exist in every city in the world, there are huge opportunities to make small changes in how people use their neighborhoods, streets, and business districts. Entire sections of streets and street corners can become new safe spots for socializing, providing good places to sit is one of the most important. However, in walking on many streets, especially shopping streets, there are very few places to sit!

How Seating Shapes Welcoming Cities
Benches and seating are not objects; they are mirrors to our social behavior. We have seen it time and again, that where there is seating, there is life.

6. Encourage "Promenading" on City Streets

Bring back the promenade experience—a stroll along a familiar route to see friends and neighbors, like the famous "passeggiata" in Italian towns. Promenading, also called a "constitutional" in some communities, is a walk before or after dinner both for health and to meet and see people.

Passeggiata: An Exuberant Italian Custom We Should All Adopt
A regular stroll through town is not just fun—it also boosts our sense of community
Promontory for gathering and meeting
A nearly mile-long promenade route in Otranto, Italy

7. Hang-out

Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a cities' wealth of public life may growJane Jacobs

In terms of providing better street life in cities and neighborhoods, we should be creating better places for waiting, socializing, shopping, walking, biking, transit, cars—in that order.

Social Life for all/having fun - Social Life Project
The best places exude happiness and pleasure. Placemaking is meaningless without the idea of fun at its center. Why put in all this work to making public spaces better, unless the definition of “Building it Better” also means that these spaces bring joy to our lives.

8. Make Markets Unique as Local Destinations

Many new opportunities for markets exist— farmers markets have been shown to work great as healthy gathering spots, but also include neighborhood flea markets and "fix-it evenings" when locals can get household items repaired. People could also swap or give away things they no longer need. People with special talents could offer their skills for free or a small fee. This gives small businesses a big boost in these hard times.

Squares are the Hearts of Communities, Markets Their Soul: How Cities Put Them Together and Thrive
Exploring the powerful, mutually beneficial connection between market and square in cities around the world

9. Create New Opportunities for Those Most Impacted

A great number of us (the old, the poor, the homeless, the isolated, the disabled, young families etc.) are the people whose lives are most disrupted by pandemic. One of our greatest challenges is to create opportunities to involve and incorporate everyone's skills and knowledge in creating better, safer, sustainable communities.

10. Have FUN

Enjoying yourself is even more important than ever during hard times.

Social Life - How it Helps Shape the Future of Our Communities
Social life describes an entire ecosystem of human interaction that gives us meaning — and makes the very existence of our economy, community, educational system, arts and culture, science, and innovation possible. Reflections of Jay Walljasper.

The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities. We gladly accept donations to advance our work.
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