American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, cities and municipalities across the U.S. increased the issuance of shared-use agreements (SUAs) and similar permits to temporarily allow outdoor public spaces for fitness, dining, play, and other socially distanced activities.

Although these spaces began as short-term workarounds, people everywhere soon realized the incredible value and opportunities of safe, accessible outdoor spaces.

The City of San Diego’s new Spaces as Places program is a superb example of how local governments can transition these temporary spaces to permanent fixtures with established design and safety standards. 

The mission and goal of Spaces as Places 

The mission of San Diego’s Spaces as Places Initiative is similar to that of ACE’s Moving Together Outside campaign—to make appropriate public outdoor spaces into permanent shared-use areas throughout communities. 

Doing so not only helps to make public spaces more widely accessible to all community members but also helps foster social interaction and community building. 

“The Spaces as Places” program offers a menu of options to allow for the creation of a variety of quality outdoor “places,” said Sameera Rao, Project Manager for Spaces as Places at the City of San Diego’s Planning Department. She was also a featured guest at ACE’s Moving Together Outside Live Session

Sameera noted that these opportunities include dining, walking, biking, and other enjoyable public interaction that is appropriate for the post-pandemic world. Each area under the Spaces as Places program is designed in a manner that increases the safe, enjoyable use of public spaces throughout San Diego.

Helping San Diego communities and businesses rebuild post-pandemic 

Thanks to approval from the San Diego City Council, Spaces as Places will be a permanent part of the City's toolbox for transforming streets into more healthy, sustainable, and vibrant components of the neighborhood, and strengthening the local economy.? Here is how it works:

  • Businesses pay a fee for the exclusive use of the street outside their establishment. The fee ensures that the public right-of-way will be enhanced to facilitate the successful use by private businesses. 
  • The fee will first be used to fully recover the costs of the program, including administration and enforcement costs needed for successful implementation.
  • Remaining funds will be used to fund improvements that enhance the safe and enjoyable use of the surrounding public spaces. These enhancements could include: 
    • Traffic-calming investments, such as reduced speed limits, more crosswalks, and partial street closures for pedestrian-only access
    • Expanded sidewalks and bikeways to provide more widespread access to safe walking, biking, and rolling 
    • Tree and shade installations
    • Recreational amenities, including areas for dancing, children’s play, and small performances  
  • At least 50% of the remaining funds, after fully recovering the program’s costs, will be used to support businesses in traditionally underserved communities so that outdoor dining investments that enhance the public right-of-way can be enjoyed equitably across the City

In many ways, Spaces as Places is helping to drive access to safe, long-term physical activity outdoors in San Diego. 

“Spaces as Places really increases the opportunity for San Diegans to engage in safe physical activity,” Sameera said. “These spaces are perfect for public artwork displays, landscaping and garden beautification, seating areas, and welcoming spaces to gather. Exercise will definitely be one of the activities that these spaces will be used for throughout the city.” 

To learn more about how you can help increase public health in your city, visit the Moving Together Outside campaign website.