Lockdown 2.0 : spaces, signs and symbols of a pandemic

Johara Meyer documents her experience of wandering through Camden during the second Coronavirus Lockdown in the UK.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has altered geographies of our everyday world: analyses of local/regional/global transition patterns underpin efforts to “flatten the curve”, human behaviour in places is governed by geographic containment strategies, and inherently spatial concepts of ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ are now part of our day to day language.

Among the many ways in which COVID-19 has reshaped our lives, one of the most lasting effects may be changes to how we use and move through public spaces. The current lockdown in England has once again necessitated drastic adjustments to the urban landscape of London, and our behaviour in it. This photo essay explores where this becomes visible through spaces, signs, and symbols around Camden High Street.

A sight in stark contrast to the bustling, and lively atmosphere the street had a few weeks ago as most shops on Camden High street remain shut and shuttered due to the current lockdown rules.
In Harrington Square Gardens signs like this point to a “safe” distance between people and call on passersby to adjust their physical proximity to those they interact with beyond their normal sense of personal space.
Places, where people used to be able to move relatively freely, zig-zag around, take convoluted routes, are now characterised by signs, symbols, and barriers that attempt to get people to take a standardised path.
Wearing a mask has become a matter of civic duty to many. However, masks have taken on a number of contested identities throughout the pandemic: fashion items, geopolitical bargaining chips, PPE, “signs of weakness”, and many more.
On public transport, space is inherently not personal and since “many London jobs can be done remotely”, for many, avoiding travelling for work “remains a much more appealing prospect than squeezing on to a rush-hour [bus].”
– James Cheshire
Unlike in March, the food stalls of Camden Market remain open during this lockdown, however, “social infrastructure” like benches have been ribboned and closed off to visitors.
Several commercial billboards on the underground have been replaced by ones displaying the government’s health and safety rules. While ownership of the signage has shifted, the intention remains the same: to gain control over peoples social or economic actions.
Not only state agents police these new geographies, others in the community do so too. Restaurant staff may, for example, require customers to disinfect their hands in order to enter.
At the moment, the only way restaurants can legally stay open is through takeaway, click-and-collect, drive-through or delivery services. In contrast, the UK government implemented its “eat out to help out” scheme in August.
“Less shopping and more working from home means more households are using Deliveroo and other gig economy platforms more frequently …[and] approximately 35-55% of existing [European] consumers intend to continue using delivery more in the future”
– John Naughton
The economic impacts of the lockdown are felt especially by those for whom, it is not possible to work from a distance. Not only due to the restrictions that are in place but also due to “spatial anxiety” of customers.
The hospitality industry was hit particularly hard during the first lockdown. 72 percent of UK pubs and restaurants now believe they will be forced to close next year ( https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/nov/18/uk-restaurants-and-pubs-call-for-help-as-72-fear-closing-permanently)
The pandemic isn’t the only threat to the high street, years of austerity measures combined with the rapid spread of online retailing have also contributed to the decline of these spaces.
“Covid isn’t responsible for the death of the high street but is, without any shadow of a doubt, accelerating pre-existing trends.”
– Aaron Bastani
“I know pretty much everyone in the high street, all the shop keepers. I miss the people and the camaraderie that goes with that. I just hope the small businesses survive as they are the heart of this community.” – Nick Mavrides (runs Ace Sports in Kentish Town)
Space at any particular moment in time “is in the process of being made. It is never finished; never closed” (Massey). Thinking of spaces as “a product of our relations with each other” gives me hope that currently, dead spaces will be full of life again when social distancing measures are no longer necessary.

COVID-19 is a global health emergency. For more information on how to stay safe during the pandemic visit https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

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