As city dwellers have flocked outside during the pandemic, some cities have shut down urban parks because of fears of overcrowding—at a time when people could most use the mental and physical health benefits of green space. A new design, proposed for a vacant lot in the city of Vienna, shows how a park could allow for social distancing.
Called “Park de la Distance,” from the Austria-based design firm Studio Precht, the concept guides visitors on a solitary walk around a maze-like path on parallel lanes separated by hedges. “There is something fundamental in spirals,” Chris Precht, one of the founders of Studio Precht, writes in an email. “A path to the center. A path to your inner self. And as this path is about solitude, I think this is an appropriate geometry to stroll on.”
Only one person can enter each lane at a time, with a gate at the entrance and exit of the lane showing if it’s occupied; each walk takes about 20 minutes. “Sometimes visitors are fully immersed by nature, other times they emerge over the hedge and can see across the garden,” the designers wrote in a project description. “But at all times, they keep a safe physical distance from each other.”
After the pandemic, the park could continue to serve as an urban oasis. “There is a beauty in solitude and in connection to nature that people in the city often miss,” says Precht, who lives and works in a rural area in the Austrian mountains. “I don’t know when I have ever been alone in the city. But sometimes you have to get away from everything to fully reconnect. Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find something. For that we meditate, hike, or go on silent retreats. This park is a short version of that. It gives the possibility to escape for 20 minutes.”