During these all-too strange days of pandemic and protest, it is hard to say something someone has not said already, or to express outrage in an innovative way.

But neither is it a time to remain silent, particularly when people remark here in London about an American President and expect me to explain something rational in his behavior. I tend to say the Trump/Barr form of social distancing–if it exists at all–features military way-paving to be sure people stay at a distance from the President on his way to hold a bible.

The urban need for retrofits and recalibration, assuring that people adapt their behaviors to prevent disease spread, was challenging already. I’d like to offer some softer forms of action that will be necessary before too long–some things that are intended to mend systemic rifts between segments of society.

What does place-healing look like?

In the United States, I’m aware of spontaneous, good samaritan cleanups and damage repair is underway, and that is a great start. We need to prioritize place-healing, which often depends more on communication and empathy than anything else:

  • Education. Over and above schools, everyone should do their job to understand one another. Training, or professional “continuing education,” should be sensitive to issues of privilege and class, and honor different stories of minority populations.
  • Place Metrics. In the United States, the walkability metric, WalkScore, has become a popular method of rating the appeal of a place. How about an EquityScore?
  • Pro Bono. What if every profession had pro bono obligations? It is time for more free services to those in need.
  • Social Networks and Public Service. What if every day, social networks ran a summary or video on sign-in that highlighted opportunities to help reverse ongoing discriminator practices in a subscriber’s area?
  • Prioritizing Communication. Every community must continue to prioritize how to communicate with citizens. Attention to differences in language, age, technology access, and the potential of facilitated dialogue is more critical than ever. Placemaking networks have recently revived attention to “front porch” projects that include modes of communication that work with social distancing in place. No doubt there are many more creative opportunities.

When it comes to the urban condition, it is becoming increasingly apparent that top-down imposition of form and function is now a less-favored approach in democracies today–hence the dystopian nature of a militarily paved Presidential path to a bible. Instead, there is a growing movement towards the synergies of co-creation and empowering the expertise of affected citizenry.

Teddington High Street, London
Peace on the High Street

Frankly, the imagery shown here is confounding, because it looks so peaceful compared to the photos I’m now seeing from where I grew up. Here, in England, there is controversy about the potentially premature lifting of lockdown, how the economy will improve if restrictive measures continue, and the path towards Brexit. Amid uncertainty about public health and the economy, these streets nonetheless look peaceful–which I hope will help others to envision the place-healing needed in these troubled times.

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4 Replies to “Next Comes Place-Healing”

  1. well said. We are tied intrinsically to the places where we routibely work, live, and play. These places help form our emotional self where we gather to socially interact, where we rest and where we find vigor take this away through social distancing, or social unrest, as what is also happening throughout much of the US, our emotional self will suffer. If these places become a place of fear, then I am afraid we will also fear our neighbors who we might encounter in these places.

  2. Nice words, Rob. All people need a sense of identity, a sense of place and a sense of purpose, but when those needs and rights are removed and little regard shown for the value and worth of those people, well, we end up with the chaos that we see now.

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