Quick and easy and getting it done, but c’mon, can’t we do this better? (Author photo)

At this point, there’s more or less consensus that if you have to be around other people during this pandemic, the best place to be is outside. Ergo countless ad hoc outdoor spaces for dining, working, and just hanging out. You know who’s really great at creating outdoor spaces that aren’t ad hoc, ones that actually work well? You, the landscape architect. This is your moment.

Before the list, a note: a full-scale professionally designed outdoor space is a major endeavor, taking time, plenty of money, and usually licensed contractors. It’s a lot for a business to take on right now, and of course, we need everything outside right now, not in 6 months or next year. Enter the ad hoc part.

But consider: anyone can carry a folding chair outside. Someone with skill can place that folding chair where it works the best, looks the best, and is the most comfortable. That someone is you. It’s a great moment for minimalist projects using that skill with off-the-rack furnishings, repurposing what’s already at hand, and making the most of what’s already on site. 

Five potential projects from the pandemic

1) Outdoor gyms and workout spaces 
In my town, people are using the area around the high school track for burpees, strength training, agility courses – all the stuff they used to do at the gym. I’ve also seen people doing yoga on mats spread on the gravel parking lot of a local park. Clearly there’s an unfilled need.

2) Outdoor meeting spaces, at offices and other businesses
A conference room outside needs what a conference room inside needs, plus shade, shelter from wind, and hopefully at least a little privacy. Bonus points for any kind of calming vegetation. 

3) Outdoor dining, obviously. 
You knew this one, but realize that so much of this is done terribly, even before the pandemic. It needs to be comfortable for the diners and the servers, and right now that means giving waitstaff plenty of space. As customers tiptoe back into eating out, outdoor dining needs to not just be safe, but *look* safe, as well as inviting. Sound challenging? That’s why you hire a pro to design it.

4) Outdoor hair salons/barbershops
The nation is crying out for a haircut, and the safest way to do that is outside. We can do better than a folding chair on the sidewalk next to the parking lot, can’t we?

5) Outdoor school spaces
A big category that’s super-timely, as debate roils about what’s going to happen come fall (fast approaching,  regardless of what the seasons say). We’re familiar with outdoor classrooms, but schools are composed of many different spaces serving different functions: cafeterias, play areas, bus loading, drop off/pick up, staff lounges, gyms, auditoriums, and those classroom spaces. Having at least a few spaces outside could provide vital flexibility for schools navigating the first fall of the pandemic.