Time for ‘green’ during covid-19? Inequities in green and blue space access, visitation and felt benefits
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
We hypothesized that visits to green and blue spaces may have enabled respite, connection and exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, but such benefits might have been inequitably distributed due to differences in financial difficulties, opportunities to work from home, and local-ized restrictions in spatial mobility generated by ‘lockdowns’. A nationally representative online and telephone survey conducted in 12–26 October on the Social Research Centre’s Life in Australia™ panel (aged ≥ 18 y, 78.8% response, N = 3043) asked about access, visitation, and felt benefits from green and/or blue spaces. Increasing financial difficulty was associated with less time in and fewer visits to green and/or blue spaces, as well as fewer different types visited. Financial difficulty was also associated with feelings that visits to green and/or blue space had less benefit for main-taining social connection. Working from home was associated with more frequent and longer visitation to green and/or blue spaces, as well as discovery of ones previously unvisited. Working from home was also associated with increased levels of exercise and respite resulting from visits to green and/or blue spaces. Residents of Melbourne, a city of 4.9 million who were in ‘lockdown’ at the time of the survey, appeared more likely to benefit from visits to green and/or blue spaces than residents of Sydney, Australia’s largest city at 5.2 million, who were not in lockdown. Residents of Melbourne compared with Sydney reported consistently increased visitation of, discovery of, and greater levels of various felt benefits derived from green and/or blue spaces, including more respite, connection, and exercise. Comparatively shorter distances to preferred green and/or blue spaces and closure of alternative settings at the time of the survey completion in Melbourne compared with Sydney may provide partial explanation, though more acute responses to experiencing green and/or blue spaces within highly cognitively demanding antecedent conditions posed by lockdown are also plausible and warrant further investigation with other health indicators. These results were robust to adjust-ment for a range of covariates including preferences for natural settings, which were consistently associated with greater levels of green and/or blue space visitation and felt benefits. Collectively, these results indicate that parallel efforts to generate (or renew) felt connection to natural settings, to increase working from home opportunities, and to mitigate financial difficulties may be important to help maximize the population health benefits of urban planning strategies intended to improve the availability of, and to reduce inequities in access to, green and blue spaces. Benefits felt more commonly by people living through lockdown underlines the role previous investments in green and blue space have played in enabling coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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National Health and Medical Research Council