Fellow Quilian Riano, reflects on health and racial equity in our public spaces as part of our Trust by Design campaign. Quilian is the Founder/Lead Designer of DSGN AGNC, an architectural, urban design, strategy and art studio that experiments with new forms of space, policy and process creation through political engagement and the Associate Director of Kent State's Cleveland Urban Design Collective.

Currently, public space is facing a great challenge. After the murder of George Floyd by an act of police brutality, public space has become a place in which the Black community and allies have come out to demand anti-racist changes and create collective liberative processes. However, recently we have seen reactionary state violence by federal troops and militarized police units play out in streets of Portland, DC, Chicago, New York, and other U.S. cities. This violent response against the public being perpetrated with the excuse of protecting aspects of public space, mainly monuments.
Yet, it is protestors that are protecting the principles and values of public space. Actively using public space to work together, create alliances, negotiate actions and even form mutual aid societies that help larger swaths of the public. They show us that for public space to contribute to the health of a community, we must advocate for spaces that are a democratic stage for communities as they continue to struggle for justice and liberation.
Corona Plaza, in the epicenter of New York City’s Covid-19 pandemic, is just such a public space with an important role in communal democratic processes. Recently, for example, it has served as a place to protest ICE raids in this heavily Latino community, the harassment of street vendors, the lack of governmental support, and to hold a vigil for the victims of the pandemic. The plaza and its street vendors have also served as a place for the community to access food and services. In short, this public space is key to this community’s health and it is so because it is seen as a place of convening, a place of protest, a place of care. It is seen as a place for pluralistic democracy to play out.