Social distancing circles: The 99-cent solution to a pandemic problem

December 3, 2021 - 9:33 AM
People in Domino Park are seen in circles painted as guidelines for social distancing during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., May 24, 2020. (Reuters/Andrew Kelly/File Photo)

LONDON — With the help a 99-cent can of paint, New York’s Domino Park created one of the most unlikely successes of the COVID-19 pandemic – social distancing circles painted in public places, which have shown that when conditions are right, people embrace radical rules.

The sight of New Yorkers sitting inside neatly spaced circles drawn on the grass would have been unthinkable before the pandemic arrived, but in March 2020 the idea captured the moment and quickly spread across the globe.

“Everybody was really yearning for guidance that fit within their daily life and was also something that made sense for them to follow – and the circles happened to be that,” Michael Lampariello, director of Domino Park, said in an interview at  the  Reuters Next conference.

Domino Park is a 5-acre public park in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Lampariello said his team’s overnight experiment with a discounted can of paint tapped in to people’s desire for a way to enjoy public spaces responsibly, without being criticized for potentially spreading the virus.

“We immediately started getting requests and emails for additional information from parks all over the world,” he said.

Replicated in cities from Sydney to Santiago, the idea’s success showed that rules that normally govern city planning can evolve quickly.

Would New Yorkers have followed the rules before the pandemic?

“It would not have worked out well, that is certainly for sure,” Lampariello said.

—Reporting by William James in London Editing by Matthew Lewis