The COVID-19 pandemic has proven just how important parks are for Australian communities. With lockdown mandates keeping families at home, people looked for new ways to engage with each other and the outdoors. They found this in public parks.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australian shores, there has been a 23% increase in the utilisation of national parks and greenspaces Australia-wide, with some parks reporting that visitation has since doubled. Due to the lockdown, many Australian’s experienced feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety, according to the Australian Government. Parks were the places where people could go to feel connected to their community, nature and their own sense of self. Studies have shown that being in a park for just 20 minutes will improve your mental health, and reduce anxiety, stress and crime.
This rise in the necessity for public parks prompted councils to inject funds into public spaces in order to make them safer and keep them open to support physical and mental health. “Increased visits to our many parklands in recent months shows why we cherish our public spaces and why we must work together to enhance them,” says Planning & Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes.
In response to this rise in park patronage, the Australian government has pledged $233 million in funding to upgrade and develop park infrastructure across the country. Not only will this country-wide push to improve public parks improve the wellbeing of communities, it was also provide a boost to the economy. Local businesses and jobs suffered due to COVID lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. By reactivating public parks and public spaces, encouraging people to visit them while maintaining safety practices, jobs will be created or maintained, and patronage to businesses will increase.
It is expected that these funds will create more than 1000 new jobs and provide a significant boost to the quality of and facilities offered by Australian parks. These factors will encourage a much needed revitalisation to Australia’s public parks.
“The pandemic has proven that parks are essential infrastructure,” said Adrian Benepe, the senior vice president and director of national programs for the Trust for Public Land in the US. “It’s a great paradox that parks have never been more used or appreciated than now…parks were a last refuge.”