The value of public green spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic

ID’s recommended reads – 06/10/2020Charlotte Noël

When on 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 an international public health emergency, many countries implemented policy measures reducing personal contact in order to ‘flatten the curve’. Social distancing became the norm in public space and restrictions on the use of public spaces were imposed in many countries around the globe in order to protect public health. These policy measures resulted in a shrinkage of both our physical and social world, thereby possibly collaterally damaging the physical and mental health of a substantial proportion of the population, particularly those in urban settings, and resulting in another threat for public health.

Public green spaces might partially counterbalance these negative health outcomes since they offer unique places to meet others, to break through isolations, to move, play and relax at a safe distance. The physical and even more the mental benefits of nature interaction and the ecosystem services provided by nature are nowadays well-established in the literature.


This weeks’ recommended reads highlight the value of public green spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reads also address the topic of green justice and formulate suggestions for urban green space management and keeping parks and green spaces accessible during pandemics.

Although the two first recommended reads are of high quality and rely on interesting data collection methods, their results should not be understood as representative for the total population. As the authors mention themselves, some selection bias inherent to data collection via mobile applications or online surveys has occurred.

1) Urban nature in a time of crisis: recreational use of green space increases during the COVID-19 outbreak in Oslo, Norway
Venter et al. (2020) (preprint accepted for publication)

This research explores recreational use frequency and spatiotemporal patterns in relation to environmental factors in an urban setting by means of mobile tracking data in Oslo, Norway. In doing so, the researchers make use of an alternative quite innovative collection method to generate big data from a mobile application.
From the research we learn that recreational activity in Oslo, where only a partial lockdown was installed, significantly increased during the COVID-19 lockdown and that increases were greatest over trails within greener and suburban periphery. These findings suggest that accessible open green space in combination with population adherence to social distancing can mitigate the predicted negative health effects of moderate physical mobility restrictions, while reducing risk of disease transmission.

2) Urban Parks as Green Buffers During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Xie et al. 2020

This study investigates by means of an online survey with 386 respondents the role of urban parks to maintain good health and quality of life under extreme stressful pandemic circumstances in Chengdu, China.
Results show that residents’ self-assessment of their perceived health and social interaction levels during the pandemic were low and that according to self-reports, visiting city parks can improve physical/mental health and allows residents to meet their social interaction needs. The study highlights the critical and positive role that urban parks play as green buffer zones during a pandemic and underlines the importance of equal access to urban green space resources by distributing smaller units of green into the urban landscape. It also underscores that it seems necessary to encourage residents to visit urban parks or other green spaces, as long as they keep a safe distance from others.

3) Recommendations for Keeping Parks and Green Space Accessible for Mental and Physical Health During COVID-19 and Other Pandemics.
Slater et all. 2020

Being quarantined is associated with poor mental health outcomes. But maintaining access to parks and green spaces could counteract these negative effects. In this light, to end with, we provide a commentary about short- and long-term recommendations to encourage access to green space for people while allowing for physical distancing. The recommendations can apply to a wide variety of populations in urban, suburban, and rural settings, but they may be particularly relevant for vulnerable populations in urban settings.

The recommendations are meant to be a starting point for a conversation between different governments, park and recreation departments, non-profit organisations and researchers.