Keeping Our Public Parks Safe

SCAD Atlanta foundations professor Emily Schmidt emphasizes the importance of storytelling through design. Before joining the SCAD faculty in 2015, she worked as a production artist at Marvel Entertainment and Image Comics. Professor Schmidt knows superheroes — and what it takes to be an everyday hero too.

This fall, Emily is challenging her students to reimagine city park systems through graphic design, making public social spaces safe and enjoyable for everyone.

Emily Schmidt:

Public parks are extremely important to our communities right now, not only for our overall health and mental well-being, but also the greater social benefits.

Parks provide a space where we can responsibly meet people while practicing safe social-distancing measures. Parks are the new home to yoga studios looking to survive current quarantine mandates. Parks are places where children can play outside of the home at a time when “home” often combines a virtual school, mom’s office, and the screen-time capital of the world.

And yet, our parks, layouts, and capacity numbers have not yet adapted to our new COVID-19 world. In Atlanta, many people are not adhering to national safety regulations. Entrances and exits are not clearly marked, and citizens with pre-existing conditions are unable to fully feel safe in what is one of the only “safe-spaces” left.

I am working with my students to design and educate our fellow Atlantans on how we can keep our parks safe in our new normal, while challenging their problem-solving and design skills.

Three ideas that have jumped out:

1. New way finding measures: Indicate where the entrances to the park are. Indicate where the exits are. Rather than having bottlenecks and people brushing past each other face to face, have consistent traffic flows to decrease the possible spread of the virus.

2. Geolocation gamification: Adapt the popular principles of Pokemon GO. Everyone loves winning, regardless of the game itself. Gamifying social distancing at all times will slowly and positively train and re-shape our behaviors. People will look for ways to maintain the necessary six feet in the hopes that they will continue to climb the leaderboard. In turn, we all rise in the rankings.

3. Social distancing lifeguard: Would a lifeguard look a little weird 300 miles away from the ocean, or 1,000 feet away from a pool? Perhaps. But lifeguards are here to help protect lives. Having health and safety experts on-hand to help educate, clarify, and at times enforce proper behavior would be an enormous help to the fighting of COVID-19.

My students will continue ideating, refining, and presenting their ideas to our community. Through a series of infographics and graphic design presentations, we will look to educate each other on the steps we can, and must, take to ensure the safety of everyone around us. It will take new ideas and a dedicated commitment from all of us to make sure we once again can return to the parks, restaurants, and lives we loved before this outbreak occurred. Together we will defeat COVID-19.

By Robert Almand

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SCAD prepares talented students for creative professions through engaged teaching and learning in a positively oriented university environment.

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