Transforming Urban Space part I
Pandemic Urbanism

Time: 13:30 - 15:00, Thursday, October 28
Room: Periferien, Holbergs gate 1, 4th floor

This subpanel is part of the four-part session “Transforming Urban Space: Design, Democracy, Dwelling and Pandemic urbanism”. The four-part session argues that attending to the multiple social and ecologically crises the earth is currently facing requires different kinds of relationships between citizens and the spaces we design, construct and inhabit.

This concern is addressed in four subpanels: design, democracy, dwelling and last, but not least, the impact of covid-19 on how we plan and inhabit public space.

This subpanel focuses on the question of pandemic urbanism.

During the Covid-19 pandemic urban space has gained both increased and decreased importance. Work, learning, shopping and social interaction has to a large extent moved online, leaving streetscapes and public spaces empty and desolate. Social distancing has deprived urban life of its most characteristic features of dense social interaction. Even so, quite many public spaces have also been put into more extensive use.

Lockdowns of various shape have turned many residential areas and public spaces into laboratories of urban conduct, inspiring more varied and partly new patterns of use. In the age of pandemic urbanism, public spaces are put in to use both in more instrumental and creative ways, thus making them more dynamic and changing, and also more concrete and visible, than before. In this panel we ask what impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had for cities and urban living, as well as for how we see urban planning and the future city.

What are the temporary and more enduring impacts of the pandemic in terms of urban development, policy and planning? Will urban life and culture be subject to radical change or go back to normal? Are there responses to the pandemic that hold more liberating and transformative potential? What possibilities and challenges has the pandemic created for promoting different relationships between people and the public spaces we inhabit?


To structure this session there will be a welcome by session hosts: Jonny Aspen (professor, AHO) and Lisbeth Iversen (research fellow, public sector PhD, AHO). Followed by 15 minute presentation of the papers. To conclude there will be a 40 minute panel discussion moderated by Jonny Aspen (AHO).

Paper 1: Movers from the city in the first year of Covid – will they come back after the pandemic? Marianne Tønnessen, researcher, NIBR, OsloMet

Cities across the world have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and out-migration from many cities was exceptionally high in 2020. Some movers went abroad, others moved to other parts of the same country.

Using Oslo in Norway as a case, this study examines the characteristics of those moving from the city in 2020, such as occupation, age, and whether they were born in Oslo. Based on these findings I discuss the likelihood that the leavers will return when the pandemic is over.

The results show that those moving from Oslo in 2020 were somewhat older compared to those who moved out in 2016-2019. To a larger extent than in the preceding years, the movers in 2020 had jobs where home office/teleworking would be possible, and they were not born in Oslo. This may indicate that a substantial share of those who moved from Oslo in 2020 will not move back to the city after the pandemic if teleworking will still be possible. For those who emigrated to another country, no teleworking effect was found.

Paper 2: Balancing between regulations and co-creation, planning and placemaking, in the use and programming of urban spaces through the Covid 19 pandemic – A case study from Arendal, Norway.
Lisbeth Iversen, AHO

The Covid 19 pandemic closed down many public places and arenas during parts of the pandemic. Cities responded differently to how they tried to navigate between the citizens needs for spaces to spend time outdoors and indoors, and the danger of spreading the virus. Regulations existed connected to the use of many public places in many cities. The pandemic challenged existing use and ways of dealing with new regulations and restrictions, and the need to act quickly.

This study is part of a Public Sector PhD project in the city of Arendal, at Oslo School og Architecture and design. This part of the PhD project is using Arendal city center as a case study on how public spaces in the city center are defined, regulated, used and programmed, and by whom. The study also looks at what could possibly be or become spaces for public use, involving the citizens and the civil society in these discussions and in the programming of activities.

In the summer of 2020 and 2021 regular planning processes had to be put aside, and replaced with crisis leadership in the municipality. The leaders of the city reached out for collaboration with the civil society, especially organizations, youth projects and the business actors, and vice versa. Co-creation initiatives between several actors and organizations were launched in order to provide temporary solutions and spaces, and to programme activities within the frames of national and local restrictions. The Cafe Pollen project, Summer in Arendal, Arendal Summer Camp and Arendal Summer School are some examples.

Based on action research, document analysis, interviews and mapping of business- and citizens initiatives through the two summers, this paper addresses the merging of more experimentation, participation and co-creation of solutions to provide social and commercial meeting places and arenas. During the Arendal Week (Arendalsuka), the national democracy week in Norway, August 17-20 2021, this PhD project took the initiative to arrange a series of seminars, workshops and amongst other a laboratory for imaginaries of the good city center. The programme was co-created with many actors, with different kinds of knowledge and experience. An exhibition of the PhD project was presented, also inviting people to give input, and take part in a questionary about participation and expectations connected to urban development and placemaking.

Questions are asked in the PhD project on how to balance regular planning and more action-oriented place-making, and if the examples and initiatives could be seen as merging, new and innovative methods of place leadership and place monitoring. (Hambleton. 2019).

The findings from the action research, seminars, workshop and questionary will be presented followed by a discussion on how the city might balance between the fixed and the flexible, between regulations and co-creation, and between private, commercial and citizens interests in the times to come.

Reference: Robin Hambleton (2019): The New Civic Leadership: Place and the co-creation of public innovation, Public Money & Management, DOI: 10.1080/09540962.2019.1592908

Paper 3: Space use in times of Covid-19 pandemic
Jonny Aspen, AHO

The paper explores how the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about changes in people’s conception of (urban) space. Academics have stressed that the pandemic has strongly affected our perception of time (e.g., Jordheim).

This paper proposes that the effects on people’s spatial conception are just as pervasive. Both the pandemic as such, and the measures to fight it (social distancing etc.), play themselves out in spatial settings. Thus, space as such, especially in urban contexts, has made the invisible virus of Covid-19 more present and concrete.

Consequently, one important effect of the pandemic is that it has made people more attentive towards spatial features and qualities than before. For good and bad, one might say.

This paper is based on observational studies of people’s use and behavior in outdoor areas in Oslo throughout various periods of pandemic lockdown. The main changes in terms of use and behavior have been of two kinds.

On one hand, many space uses, and thus much of the underlying perceptions of space, have been considerably more controlled and instrumental than before, mostly due to rules of social distancing.

On other hand, one has also in many places (especially recreational areas and inner-city housing districts during lockdown) seen examples of new and more creative space uses than before. Indoor activities (e.g., training studios, teaching, etc.) have moved outdoors and social distancing rules etc. have inspired people to make use of urban space in new and unforeseen ways.

In the paper examples of both more restrictive and creative forms of space use will be analyzed, drawing on theoretical perspectives from debates on the spatial turn (e.g., Warf & Arias (eds.), 2009) and, more specifically, Foucault’s notion of heterotopia (Foucault 1998) and Lefebvre’s spatial triad (Lefebvre 1991).


  • Jonny Aspen, AHO
  • Lisbeth Iversen, AHO