“Should the use of parks be promoted during a pandemic?”
This question was repeatedly brought up by respondents when I conducted a survey on the use of parks usage. One might have the preconception that the best way to blockade is for everyone to stay at home as much as possible. But the opposite is true – even outdoor activities in a crowded kings park are safer than any indoor activity.
Beginning with the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic of COVID-19 in 2020, Perth has gradually taken measures to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19. These measures have included progressive restrictions on personal mobility and public life in many cities around the world. It has been established that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures have led to a general decline in the physical and mental health of the population.
Last Saturday was a happy day for many Perth residents. As no more new community Covid-19 cases were found, Perth’s lockdown status was temporarily lifted and people’s daily lives will return to their pre-city closure state, which is good news for Perth. However, as we now know, the end of the pandemic is not yet in sight, Perth’s lockdown status could be restarted at any time.
Against this backdrop, urban public green spaces have taken on the mission of promoting human well-being, shaping the relationship between people and nature and restoring the post-pandemic world. The pandemic made urban planners realise that people needed more public open spaces to engage in recreational activities.
Dr Maria Ignatieva is a landscape designer and urban ecologist who has lived and worked in Russia, the USA, New Zealand and Sweden, and now teaches and researches in the School of Design at the University of Western Australia. Her main research interests are in urban ecology, with a particular focus on urban biodiversity and design, the history of landscape architecture and the restoration and conservation of historic gardens. A new study by Dr Maria Ignatieva has found that more public open and green spaces are needed in post-pandemic cities to promote our physical and mental health.
My conversation with Maria began with her latest online research project. We talked about the use of public green spaces by Perth residents during the pandemic. Statistics on COVID-19 cases and visitor numbers in eight countries from the “Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on urban park visitation: a global analysis” show that there is a significant correlation between COVID-19 cases and visitor numbers. There was a significant correlation between the two. Park visitation increased during the pandemic in all of these countries, albeit to varying degrees, suggesting that the epidemic had an impact on open spaces.
“To explain the situation in Perth, it’s important to first compare it with other cities.” Maria said. “Lockdown brought about by the pandemic was slightly different in different regions. Compared to other areas of the world, Perth lockdown was incomplete because it lasted less than three months. Besides, there are other countries in the world, such as Brazil and China, where people were banned from using public spaces during the pandemic. People could only look these green spaces or bring green to their own houses and balconies, which is why they are different from Perth.”
Maria also explained what makes Perth’s urban green spaces so special: “Because 50% of urban green space in Perth is private. People love public green space, but at the same time they have a private garden. It means that they have access to nature every day because they can use their own garden whenever they want. This is a key feature of Perth’s urban green spaces and is the case for most Australian cities.”
When asked about the strengths or weaknesses of Perth’s existing urban public green spaces, on the one hand, Maria agrees that Perth is doing very well – having access to public green spaces was very important to the urban residents. Other parts of the world, such as Moscow, seem to lack mobility compared to Perth, and now they’re trying to change. “These cities really need to have green spaces by people’s houses that people can access, it’s very important for well-being and health.”
On the other hand, Maria believes that Perth needs more parks and more public urban green spaces. Firstly, urban public green spaces contribute to the well-being of human physical and mental health, and modern cities need enough open space to promote well-being. Secondly, people need to be kept at a social distance during a pandemic, so the city needs bigger places to accommodate people. In this context, bigger places are green spaces that are spacious enough; private gardens and micro-apartments are not included. Another important reason is that the promotion of public urban green spaces in communities is an important task for the equity of residents. Urban public green spaces which give everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy nature are about equality in the community and about the next generation.
Finally, we discuss how the design and development trends of future urban green spaces may change or improve as a result of the pandemic.
“In the future we need more green spaces, more connected green spaces, more shade in the streets. We could also think about special facilities about redesign so that people can stay social distance while using these green spaces. Beyond that, people could have more private green space, more green walls, green roofs and so on. These are suggestions on how to add green to people’s lives, because there is no doubt that green is good for human mental and physical health.”
There is no denying that the pandemic has really turned people’s daily lives upside down. During the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated blockades, access to green spaces within walking distance of our homes for open-air recreation and exercise has proved essential – but sometimes in short supply.
So what steps should we take to have more green space in our cities? For Perth, which is doing very well at this stage, I think it is important to protect the existing public green space in the city. Whether it’s a park, a greenway or a nature reserve, we need to keep it from being lost to development and make sure it’s a public place that everyone has equal access to.
Whether in Perth or elsewhere, it is clear that it is impossible and undesirable to keep people locked indoors, and that creating enough green spaces in good condition must be part of the community’s public health agenda. Given the way COVID-19 is spread, the outdoors is certainly a safe space and we need to create more of these spaces in the city if we are to be prepared for a long-term pandemic.
“Parks and other green spaces have become a lifeline for many people during these difficult times.”
In contrast to the high pace of life in modern cities, the pandemic has gradually slowed people down. Many of us now spend less time running around, commuting and travelling long distances. Instead, we are spending more time at home and in our local communities. This shift has provided me with the opportunity to think deeply about the relationship between humans and nature. Indeed, while we continue to harm nature day in and day out, nature helps humans in these difficult times. Nature-based solutions offer promising options for post-pandemic cities. If implemented properly, it can achieve a connection between nature and the city, while also addressing the challenges surrounding climate change adaptation in urban areas. Ultimately, if we are to truly move in the right direction, we must work with nature, not against it.
As Ms Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan socio-environmentalist who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, said: “People need open space. People need fresh air. They can do without buildings. They can do without concrete. But they cannot do without fresh air.”
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Featured image: www.uwa.edu.au.
All pictures and diagrams in this article are created by the author