By Mateja Mihinjac
During coronavirus lockdowns, there is much talk about essential and frontline workers and how we depend on their services. Indeed, they have been paramount in supporting us for many months.
After weeks of the crisis, essential workers are exhausted from working overtime. Many others in lockdown, quarantine, shelter in place, or any other manifestation of physical distancing, experience psychological effects of cabin fever.
In this new reality, many of us experience mental tension and emotional distress, in some cases resulting from the serious psychological impacts of isolation, including depression and anxiety.
It is no surprise that so many of us are finding ways to alleviate these symptoms through nature. Green urban parks are busy offering refuge for local residents during sunny days. In my own neighbourhood I regularly meet walkers and hikers despite being instructed to stay home. Similarly, people in our coastal towns cannot resist outdoor sun craving while lying on the beach – many were fined for doing so during stay-at-home orders.
Others feared the consequences and remained at home.
As I noted in March in my blog on Resilience during COVID, in European countries such as Italy, France, and Spain that practice stricter forms of lockdowns, thousands of residents sit on their (often tiny) balconies to enjoy the fresh air, soak in some sun, and connect with their neighbours on other balconies. Yet far too many citizens are deprived of that opportunity as well.
Those living in city apartments without balconies are stuck between four walls. One example is Melbourne public housing towers where residents are ordered to remain in their small apartments for weeks without balconies to resort to in lieu of green space.
Unfortunately, similar stories of essential space deprivation are common for those living in socially and economically deprived areas. In these places, people are deprived because their neighbourhoods have the least green space and few places to socialize, which in turn contributes to poor physical, social and emotional health. The deficit of essential green social spaces repeats itself across North America, Australia, and Europe.
ESSENTIAL GREEN SPACES
We know very well about the benefits of green infrastructure for health and emotional wellbeing. The effect of green space on alleviating the symptoms of mental tension and improving emotional and physical health outcomes is well documented.
Because of their prominence, I consider green spaces essential spaces. Access to essential green spaces is indispensable and should be widely accessible in all cities.
Green infrastructure has even been associated with lower crime and has well-known benefits for building social capital. Green urban spaces will help us buffer the effects of negative social impacts that will ensue from this period and they will speed the post-pandemic recovery.
In SafeGrowth we consider these essential green spaces the linchpin for planning safe and livable neighbourhoods, especially those neighbourhoods already employing advanced neighbourhood governance and planning systems like SafeGrowth.
My hope is that with the many changes unfolding in post-pandemic cities we prioritize essential green spaces over grey spaces of concrete and asphalt. We owe everyone access to essential green spaces in all corners of our future neighbourhoods.