Urban researcher on the importance of parks in helping cities adapt during pandemic

Urban researcher on the importance of parks in helping cities adapt during pandemic

  • Nature in urban spaces is instrumental in maintaining peoples’ wellbeing throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Karl Samuelsson, a Stockholm-based researcher who focuses on sustainable environments for people, says that cities need more nature and bigger spaces to practice social distancing.
  • In a recent research paper, Samuelsson and his colleagues argue that social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus can leave dense urban areas in a particularly vulnerable position.
  • To combat this, cities need to be able to offer residents quicker access to green space and the opportunity to get outside while maintaining a safe distance from others during a pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

 

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the world, open space — and space to maintain a social distance — has become a hot commodity. 

Karl Samuelsson, an urban researcher at the University of Gävle in Stockholm, Sweden, thinks natural spaces like parks can help cities become resilient to crises.

“From the street cross-section to the pocket park, to the larger parks, to very large nature areas — I think all of them need to play a role in the future cities,” Samuelsson told Business Insider.

In an April 2020 research paper about how cities are dealing with the coronavirus, Samuelsson and his colleagues argued that social distancing is especially difficult in cities because there are more people and fewer open spaces. 

A picture taken on April 1, 2020 shows people on Queens street in Stockholm, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Fredrik SANDBERG / various sources / AFP) / Sweden OUT (Photo by FREDRIK SANDBERG/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)

A picture taken on April 1, 2020 shows people on Queens street in Stockholm, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

FREDRIK SANDBERG/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images


The coronavirus pandemic has created a need for more green spaces in cities

Measures like staying in have led many to social isolation, the paper argues, prompting people to feel lonely and have heightened risks for anxiety, depression, and other mental health illnesses.

At the same time, Samuelsson told Business Insider, bringing cities back to “business as usual,” or reopening the economy without preventative measures like social distancing, isn’t the right move either.

Karl Samuelsson_20190411



Courtesy of Karl Samuelsson


Instead, the best move is to find a middle ground between the extremes. That’s where open spaces and nature in various scales come into play, Samuelsson said. While a tree outside your window can boost your mood from indoors, a pocket park around the corner offers easy access to the outdoors.

“In Stockholm, it’s the mid-sized areas that have really been important,” Samuelsson added. “They are fairly large — so you can observe a distance to other people — but still easily accessible.” Sweden, notably, did not impose a lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the country instituted fewer rules that are easier to maintain for a long time, like banning large gatherings and nursing home visits.

A picture taken on March 18, 2020 shows the empty Stortorget square in Stockholm, Sweden, where activities came to a halt due to the coronavirus.

A picture taken on March 18, 2020, shows the empty Stortorget square in Stockholm, Sweden, where activities came to a halt due to the coronavirus.

JESSICA GOW/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images


There are two main factors to consider when it comes to expanding natural areas in cities: how the space within a city is organized, and how accessible natural spaces are to the public. 

In some cities, Samuelsson said, “It’s a question of thinking, could some of the spaces that have been designated for something else be reclaimed by nature?”

The question of accessibility is equally critical. “If there is nature in a city, but you can’t access it, it’s not really doing any good for you,” Samuelsson said.

Samuelsson believes that maintaining and expanding natural urban spaces can help cities become resilient in times of like these. “This is not going to be the last crisis,” he told Business Insider.

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