Professor Setha Low Receives Best in Building Leadership Award for COVID-Proofing Public Spaces and Buildings

Professor Setha Low

Professor Setha Low (Psychology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Anthropology), renowned for her scholarship in the anthropology of space and place, was awarded a Best in Building Health Leadership Award from the Center for Active Design for her work on COVID-proofing public spaces and buildings. Low is a board member of the Center for Active Design, a nonprofit organization using design to foster healthy and engaged communities.

In announcing the award to Low and the academic advisory group, the Center for Active Design acknowledged that “scientists, academics, and researchers, like yourselves, have clearly been the MVPs of the past year, providing guidance and clarity amidst so much chaos and confusion.”

Low’s focus was how to physically distance, but not socially distance. With the needs of older people in mind, she explained that this was a way to “create environments where people feel safe enough to be in public space and to encounter other people without undertaking undue medical risk.” She developed guidelines, recommending the use of partitions, lightweight shelters, and street closures to safeguard spaces for walking and strolling with better physical separations. She is also working with the Center for Active Design to consider the public environment in high-rise buildings during COVID.

Low noted that her work creating healthy environments will have an impact beyond this pandemic. 

“There will be more diseases, but also more consciousness about the way pathogens travel and affect us,” she said. “As we live longer, we also will continue to have a decline in immune systems that could have consequences in the future. To have environments we can all use together, including older persons and people of different immunity, is part of the future.”

She continued, “I think that COVID gives us an opportunity to improve all of our spaces, particularly public spaces, and open up more space for people to socialize and at the same time be able to feel safe through mechanisms of physical distancing and new materials and partitioning.”

Low is the founding director of The Graduate Center’s Public Space Research Group and is the recipient of numerous awards for her work, including a Getty Fellowship, an NEH fellowship, a Fulbright Senior Fellowship, and a Guggenheim for her ethnographic research on public space in Latin America and the United States. She is a past president of the American Anthropological Association.

She lectures all over the world and has published widely. Her books include Spatializing Culture: An Anthropological Theory of Space and Place; Politics of Public Space; Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity; and Behind the Gates: Life, Security and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America

Learn More About Setha Low's Research

In this recent podcast, produced by Tufts University, she speaks about her work and efforts to promote social justice through the spaces we share.


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Submitted on: MAR 11, 2021

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