Backyard vegetable garden 

Sophiya Khan

In the midst of spending sunny weekends and spring season in physical distancing, we asked our audience to share positive stories to reflect on memories, places and events that brought them closer to their city, community or neighborhood. Snippets of Urban Life, is an ongoing collection of brief stories reminding us of the potential of public realm to foster collective strength, of places that bring people together and people who bring these places to life. Share your 200 word story to

Snippet #5: 'The simple joys of shared open spaces’ by Sophiya Khan, Fort Greene, #Brooklyn

Every evening after work, I go for a walk to the park or the bridge to clear my head & restart a new day, and every day I am reminded, of how, seeing even a few people around - walking their dogs, jogging, or biking and their little head nods acknowledging each other, make up for the simple joys of life during a quarantine.

The backyard of my apartment has also been surprisingly resourceful at this time. As an open space shared with two other buildings that surround it - I wake up every day to birds chirping at my window, and beautiful spring hues. Occasionally, I'm greeted by a friendly neighbor, cautiously keeping a distance but also checking in on each other and tending to the shared community garden full of fresh herbs and tomatoes. I had never interacted with my neighbors before, not since I moved to the building 2 years ago. The quarantine has changed my perspective of open spaces and the amount of social life that can thrive within them - however limited or expansive they may be. Be it the balcony musicals of Italy, or the porches and shared driveway chats among neighbors, backyard marathons, or even the freedom of jogging without restrictions on the wide-open streets – it is admirable to see people reclaiming spaces that were once meant for them but long lost forgotten in our busy urban lives and the chaos we call 'the internet'.

Snippet #4: 'A new perspective' by Frith Walker, Auckland, NZ

I have worked for Auckland’s City Centre waterfront for nine odd years now and live in one of its apartments. When I venture out on weekends I usually see cars parked on public space, bad signage, rubbish bins that needed emptying--my work brain was unable to wholly see the place that I helped make. Lockdown has changed that – Walking through careful, enduring design, people smiling at you like they never did before. You smiling back, knowing that you both made each other’s days a little brighter. Dogs providing the kind of icebreakers only Labrador puppies can. Seagulls and pigeons wondering where their meal tickets have gone, a heron standing calmly on a rail, and native birds which have never been here taking up residence.

I have had time and reason to pause. To see this place anew. To feel so proud of what we made and so hopeful that we can take these lessons into the rest of our city. How to imbue a space with love and care in a way that becomes infectious – in a good way. The Coronavirus reminds us all everyday that we are fragile. Here’s hoping we learn how to be, better.

Snippet #3: 'The one where we take care of each other' by Sivasudhan Balamanohar, Chennai, India

The series of images tell a heartwarming story of compassion and sharing on the empty streets and sidewalks of Chennai, India. Chennai is known for stepping up during crisis times and we have proved it time and time again. “I know what hunger is, and this is why we do this.”, is the general answer from people distributing food around the city.'

Snippet #2: 'Phonic memories of the city' by Vaidehi Mody, Brooklyn NY

It has gotten very quiet out there. Almost a disorienting feeling to be in this city without listening to all it has to say. The sirens are an occasional reminder of what the city is suffering indoors, in silence. My desk is now moved by my first-floor brownstone window, bringing me closer to the outdoors, closer to observing the choreography of people as they navigate in new ways. Footsteps often come to a stop, and detour, when another set is heard approaching. Companions move together, but awkwardly apart, rarely speaking in muffled sounds though their masks.

There is a CitiBike station right outside my window, and I look up excitedly everytime I hear the 5 beeps followed by a musical ‘you’re good to go.’ The sound of a bike slowing down, right before it’s about to get loaded into the dock, takes me to when I could hear the prodigal G train (finally) coming in and I know it was time to gear up and dive into the day’s commute. As I see the happy biker victoriously docking the bike, it reminds me of all my defeats against the subway turnstiles.

“Emptiness and absence contradict the very concept of the city,” as the New Yorker aptly put it last month. The silence is harsh. You don’t know how much you miss your everyday strangers until they are not around.

Snippet #1: Jackson Chabot, Brooklyn NY
Last spring, I was interviewed in the “Conversations on Public Space” series where I briefly shared why I like the Herbert Von King Park. A year later, amidst many changes, my attachment has only grown. Located in the middle of #BedfordStuyvesant, it is easy to find, but if you weren’t looking for it you wouldn’t find it & thus it remains a neighborhood park. This contrast simultaneously gives it life and ambiguity. Every night, I try to get out of my apartment for a quick bike ride or jog. Oftentimes, I find myself heading there for a lap around the perimeter, to enjoy my book as the sun sets, or people watch. The family playing soccer in the photo is a perfect example; each time I see them they are joyfully shrieking and jostling. I live vicariously through their shared activity and energy. These small moments make me feel closer to the neighborhood and our communal space.