What is public life and why should we celebrate it?

Public life is any connection, interaction, or function that happens in a city's public space/realm, enabling users to experience and feel something positive and important for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

by Jeff Risom & Cecilia Vaca Jones, August 26, 2021

During the past 1.5 years of the pandemic, many of us have been alone and disconnected from places and the people we love.  Connections with friends and family continue through facetime, zoom, and texts.  But we’ve also been disconnected from the serendipitous interactions with strangers and acquaintances that bring appreciation for living. It is these micro-moments that we experience together outside of our home, office, health center, and school that occur in our neighborhoods, towns and cities that we wish to celebrate.  This celebration is one of joy, but also one of health and diversity.  As we live more locally and outdoors, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of public space to our physical and mental health.

Celebrating public life is also about celebrating connectedness. We are not talking about connectedness in terms of a utopian fantasy that purports strangers can suddenly become friends. While that can happen, the connectedness we strive for is one in which we can recognize and accept our differences as well as our shared humanity.  Design for exposure to the “other” can foster empathy and compassion. 

We want to live in cities with vibrant public life. We believe that if our cities supported a great public life for young children and their caregivers, we could have a more healthy, equitable, and just future.

What is the Celebrate Public Life campaign about? 

The Celebrate Public Life campaign is an open call for urban residents around the world to tell stories about the public spaces they love and depend on.

Inclusive public spaces in which babies, toddlers, and caregivers can explore, play and form connections are an essential part of healthy urban environments and healthy child development. These public spaces are what builds healthy, engaging, and joyful public life in cities and what enables optimal brain development – and we need to discover, share, advocate for and celebrate them.

Everyone has a story to tell about their neighborhoods and the public spaces they spend time in. Yet, those stories are rarely heard by the policymakers, politicians, or organizations that shape our cities. The Bernard van Leer Foundation has teamed up with Gehl to develop a crowdsourcing platform and campaign that encourages citizens worldwide to share their input about the places they love. Crowdsourcing the right kind of data will help create more places that enable community health, safety, happiness, and connection.

Picture by Cecilia Vaca Jones featuring one of her favorite public spaces. 

Let's create healthier and better public spaces for people! Pin your favorite place and upload an image that best represents the place through the mapping tool in the front page. The data collected will be open for the community to use so that we can together advocate for public spaces that we all love.