The benefits of Australian parks in a COVID-19 world
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that has confined people to their homes, and taken a toll on Australian health and wellbeing.
As the pandemic threat still hovers over Australian communities, it is now more important than ever to recognise the benefits of Australian parks in a world impacted by COVID-19 and to take steps to ensure these spaces are safe – both during and after the crisis.
The mental health impact of COVID-19
With lockdowns enforced, it is unsurprising that Australian health and wellbeing has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Being unable to venture outdoors except for essential errands or exercise has resulted in community disengagement and created or enhanced feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety, according to the Australian Government.
Mental health impacts have been on such a rise that the Australian Government channelled an additional $500 million into mental health services as of May 2020.
Can parks help Australians in the wake of this mental crisis?
The benefits of Australian parks on health and wellbeing
The great outdoors is a key feature of Australian culture. With our beautiful skies, warm weather, and fantastic array of flora and fauna, it is unsurprising that Australians feel connected to the natural world.
A study by the Australian Government in 2010, dubbed Healthy Parks Healthy People, concluded that greenspaces and parks have incredible benefits for Australian people. Being exposed to parks can reduce crime and stress, boost immune systems, nurture psychological wellbeing and enhance productivity, and are essential for human development, health and wellbeing.
Greenspaces thriving in a pandemic
As gyms and public pools closed, Australian’s turned to parks for exercise and to go somewhere that wasn’t their own backyard or balcony. The Public Space During COVID-19 survey by the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment in Sydney revealed that visitors to tracks and trails in the Western Sydney parklands doubled since COVID-19 came to Australia, and 100% of the people surveyed said they did more outdoor fitness during the pandemic than they had before. They also said that local parks had been “especially useful” or were “appreciated more” in light of the COVID-19 restrictions.
These increased visits to parks in Sydney and across Australia over the past few months demonstrate why Australians should value our public spaces and “work together to enhance them”, states Rob Stokes, Planning & Public Spaces. “Mounting global research is clear,” he adds, “accessible greenspace offers immense health, social and economic benefits.”
The impressive statistics and the positive public response to Australian parks demonstrate just how important it is for the government to prioritise the funding, development and consistent improvement of our parks, and to make steps to create greenspaces that are optimised for a world impacted by COVID-19.