Our class conducted research mostly during June of 2021. During summer months, public spaces, especially parks, experience much higher use than during other seasons, especially in Minnesotan climate. This means that though our public spaces were likely experiencing high levels of use, our research doesn’t take into account how these spaces are used in other seasons. This may be especially pertinent for case studies that feature winter activities like ice skating or cross-country skiing trails, and for indoor spaces that may serve as a refuge from the cold in winter months. The absence of these uses of public spaces will affect our research, in that our analysis only reflects the uses of these spaces in the summer.
During our research period, especially in the first two weeks of June, the Twin Cities was undergoing a record-breaking heatwave, with temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit, unheard of for early June in Minnesota. This extreme heat may have affected the use of our public spaces, as Twin City residents may have avoided otherwise desirable outdoor activities in favor of air conditioned indoor ones. This will have affected the use of both outdoor public spaces and indoor ones, as users may have sought out indoor spaces to take refuge from the heat. This unprecedented heat wave and resulting effects on public behavior will have likely affected what we observed in outdoor and indoor public spaces.
From 2020-2021, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered engagement with public spaces. Early summer of 2021, the CDC advised wearing a mask in populated or indoor spaces, making mask-wearing optional in outdoor settings while maintaining 6 feet of social distance. Due to social distancing guidelines, some spaces had reduced capacities compared to a similar period before 2020, which may have influenced our observation results. Also, for some indoor spaces, location-specific mask-wearing policy further limits recreational users. As of June 2, 2021, the city of Saint Paul ended the mask mandate, signaling a recovery from the pandemic and in turn encouraging more people to engage with the public space. However, use of public space still has yet to return to pre-pandemic norms.
Timing also proved to be a limitation during the research process. The class met over 7.5 weeks during the summer 2021 Module 5. This condensed semester limited our ability to thoroughly observe and research our sites over a long period. The short time frame informed how and to what extent we were able to observe our sites. In order to gain a cohesive understanding of the sites, each researcher conducted a minimum of 12 hours of on-site observation. Ideally, these hours were distributed throughout weekdays and weekends at various times of the day. However, personal obligations like work and school influenced when and how long we were able to observe our sites.
With just under two months working on this project, the observations informing the Field Guide are influenced by both length of time and by season. The time spent in these public spaces was in late fall, mostly in October and November. Seasons and weather are a large contributing factor to public space usage, both positively and negatively, with outdoor parks usually seeing a decline in visitors in cooler weather, while spaces of relief from the cold like the skyways, seeing higher traffic.
This fall specifically, we had quite a bit of rain, snow, and days that were colder than average, potentially impacting the typical vibrancy of our selected public spaces. We did not get a chance to see these places in all four seasons, especially limiting for outdoor parks that generally thrive in the summer or are animated with ice rinks in the winter. This, as well as different times these places were observed, may affect our observations and ultimately the way each of us analyzed the space.
Our class is also comprised of six people, leading us to provide a survey of some of the public spaces that we personally chose to represent St. Paul, but not a comprehensive look at all the public spaces in the city, with iconic spaces in the city, such as Mears Park and Rice Park, left out. Still, this guide gives a sense of varied examples of public spaces in St. Paul, leaving room for future addition, but ample detail for engagement.
And with each site, we spent time in these public spaces, sitting and watching, straddling this line of participating and observing. The question of how we affect space and usage for other visitors based on our own presence and our perceived identities is definitely raised in this context of public use and how we as the viewer impact the very space we are watching.