Close Talkers

South Florida-based city planner Melissa Hege takes a look at how cities have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guest editorial originally posted by Melissa Hege, AICP at

Image #1: The closest of the close talkers in the Marylebone area of London

A crowded bench in the Marylebone neighborhood of London. Strangers just piling up onto this round sidewalk bench. The people-watching was fantastic.

Remember that Seinfeld episode about the close talker? How our ideas of too close have changed! I find myself backing away from neighbors in conversation when I feel they are crossing that imaginary six foot line, wondering, “why do they keep walking towards me? And if I keep backing up will the keep moving closer?” This is Miami where strangers greet you with a kiss on the cheek and the Latin culture has turned gringos, like me, into more touchy-feely kinda people. Staying apart just doesn’t feel right.

But now I find myself reminiscing about places where people did get too close. Crowed parks and benches on that first perfect day of spring (or winter if you live in Miami) and when the sun first peeks out or those dreadful heat breaks here in sunny Florida. I feel very fortunate to live in a place where sheltering in place means long walks outside, waves, chats with my neighborhoods at a safe distance, and standing at the seawall at the edge of my street to look at the water. But with parks closed and cool pop-up events on hold, let’s remember some of these places where close talkers were socially acceptable - or at least an acceptable annoyance! Here’s to the good times.

Image # 2: Take it to the Street

Aix en Provence’s main drag attracts droves of people. Why? Let’s deconstruct the photo. Obligatory fountain, rows of full shade trees, big stripped crosswalks and bollards (those small metal poles along the sidewalks edge) to keep bikes, mopeds and cars off the sidewalk. People on foot only please.

Image #3: Courtyard park in Le Marais district of Paris

An oldie but goodie, this photo shows the carefree ease of Parisian living with ample grass, designated paths for walking, and of course, the obligatory fountain. The buildings around the park make it feel cozy and the row of manicured trees and iron fence protect the space from cars and motorbikes. Are you seeing a trend with the French?

Image #4: Fairs + Special Events

Art Basel, Miami’s largest event sets up temporary outdoor spaces like this one for eating, looking at the water, people-watching, and close talking. Movable chairs let you really get in close to your friends so that they can hear your every word. You can’t get this kind of close on a Zoom call.

Image #5: Pop-Up Events

This outdoor dining event served about 400 close talkers - communal dining at it’s best. A street in downtown Miami was transformed into a car-free public space for one evening. Tables and chairs, music, lighting, landscaping, outdoor games, and semi-permanent seating.