Distanced in the Park: Measuring the Impact of COVID-19 on Urban Park Use Behaviours.

Authors: Basil Southey*, Queen's University
Topics: Urban Geography, Behavioral Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Urban Forestry, Leisure, Park Use, Urban parks, COVID-19
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

As COVID-19 shut down restaurants, bars, school campuses, libraries, and other such gathering places, urban residents turned to public parks as the only safe alternative to their homes. However, COVID-19 and related legislation and policies have influenced the way in which people use urban parks. In this paper, I compare park use behaviour from the summer of 2019 to park use behaviour observed during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis in Toronto, Canada. Three sites were selected as examples of high, median, and low-income neighbourhood parks. I then conducted observations in each park and categorized park visitors by their primary activity. This paper draws on 328 hours of park observations recorded in 2019 and 36 hours of observation conducted in 2020. Results show severe decreases in the use of parks for childcare in low- and median-income parks while childcare use sharply rose in the high-income neighbourhood park. Additionally, the use of parks for leisure activities rose sharply between 2019 and 2020 survey results. I argue that socioeconomic factors of housing and employment, combined with unequal enforcement of regulations are responsible for the difference between park use patterns and social distancing compliance across each site. I present recommendations for the future management, modification, and design of urban parks to encourage compliance with public health guidelines. The results of my research further demonstrate the vital importance of public greenspace for urban residents and the impact that public health regulations and enforcement can have on park use.

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