As part of the European project CLEARING HOUSE, led by the European Forest Institute, Koos Fransen and Nicola Da Schio of the VUB-Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Studies and Amy Philips of the VUB research group CGIS mapped views on urban green space via a European survey. The aim was to investigate whether and how the pandemic changed our attitude towards urban green space.
- The frequency of park visits markedly increased during Covid-19: for example from 56% to 80% among people who visited parks more than once a week.
- The percentage of people who visited parks less than once a month also increased: from 4% to 6%, which may be an indication that certain groups were cut off from green space during lockdown.The reasons for visiting green spaces remained the same, with a slight shift of focus from meeting other people to exercise.
- Before lockdown, the main barriers for visiting parks were distance from and quality of the green spaces. During lockdown, the main barriers were distance, safety and quality.
- 43% intend to visit green areas (considerably) more often than before because of the lockdown.
- 25% of the respondents are considering joining an organisation that advocates more green space in the city. This corresponds to the larger number of people who indicate that there is no green space available in their immediate vicinity.
- 7% indicate that they would like to move to somewhere with more public green space, while 7% would like to move to a new home with private green space.
- Before the lockdown, 61% indicated that green space should have a very high priority on the local government agenda; this number grew to 78% during the lockdown.
“The study confirms European observations that the use and frequency of urban green space visits increased during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Koos Fransen. “People want to visit urban green space after quarantine as much and even more. The increase in the use of urban green space is also reflected in an increase in the expectation of public authorities to offer urban green space as a service to society. The European Green Deal sees an important role for forests and trees, but mainly from the perspective of climate, biodiversity and bio-economy. Is the Green Deal also prepared to invest in forests as part of public health infrastructure? And is the nature and forest sector ready to welcome more and different types of visitors? For example, we call for urban forests to be seen as a critical infrastructure that supports society in times of crisis and disruption.”
The survey was available between 29 April and 10 July across Europe. It was distributed online via social media and traditional media. In total, the researchers received 3,045 responses, mainly from Belgium (2,004), Poland (303), Finland (261) and Germany (241).
The survey included 1,913 female respondents (62%), 1,102 male (36%) and 52 who answered ‘other’ or ‘prefer not to say’ (2%). There were responses from all age groups, with almost half of the respondents aged between 30 and 49. 68% of respondents are higher educated and 63% are employees. 52% switched to working from home during the lockdown, 32% saw no change in their work situation and 8% stopped working due to quarantine.
These first findings are the result of an initial scan of the collected data. In the course of the summer, several more blog posts will appear that will go deeper into specific sub-questions, such as the difference in perception of urban green space between men and women, and among those with caring responsibilities (for children, the elderly, etc.), and changes in attitude among the elderly during the Covid-19 lockdown. The consortium will also launch a follow-up survey this summer, targeting 20,000 respondents. A blog about the survey results for Europe can be found here as from wednesday 23rd.
The research took place within CLEARING HOUSE, a project on urban forests and green space. The project is coordinated by the European Forest Institute and is carried out by a broad consortium of organisations, including research, policy and NGOs in Europe and China. In Belgium the partners include VUB, Leefmilieu Brussel (Brussels Capital Region), Horizon + (Province of Flemish Brabant) and BOS+. The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement 821242 and from the participating Chinese partners.
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