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RUDN researchers have found out what allows citizens to maintain mental well-being in a pandemic

RUDN researchers have found out what allows citizens to maintain mental well-being in a pandemic

Sociologists interviewed residents of Moscow and Perth to find out what role urban green areas played for them during the pandemic. It turned out that the majority of respondents in both cities consider contact with nature important for mental well-being, and many of them went out for walks in their free time, despite the restrictions.

For more than a year, the daily life of people around the world has been subject to the strict rules of the COVID-19 pandemic. Accessible green areas and water bodies turned out to be a particularly important component of the urban infrastructure under quarantine. So far, the impact of the pandemic on the role of green zones in the life of citizens has been studied mainly on the example of large European cities, which is not enough for a comprehensive assessment of the situation. Therefore, sociologists turned their attention to the comparison of such radically different megacities in terms of climate, culture and infrastructure as Moscow and Perth.

Researchers from the RUDN and their foreign colleagues conducted a survey among 330 residents of Moscow and Perth, Australia. The questionnaire contained 25 questions about the role of urban green areas and water bodies in the daily life of people, about the impact of quarantine on their pastime and well-being, as well as about possible ways to develop green areas of the city.

According to the data obtained, more than 50 percent of residents of Moscow and 72 percent of residents of Perth during the pandemic, despite the restrictions, preferred to spend their free time walking. At the same time, it should be emphasized that there was a significant difference in the degree of quarantine measures between the studied cities: in Perth, urban green zones (public parks, nature reserves, gardens, beaches) were open during the entire period of the 2020 pandemic, while in Moscow a complete ban on visiting public places was in effect for 1.5 months. This is due to the difference in the frequency of visits to green areas during quarantine: in Moscow, 56.9 percent of respondents visited green areas less often, while 59.4 percent of Perth residents did not change their frequency of visits, and 26.7 percent even increased. However, immediately after the lifting of restrictive measures in Moscow, the attendance of green zones relative to the pre-quarantine period increased significantly.

At the same time, residents of both cities stressed the importance of urban green areas in their daily lives. The majority of respondents in both Moscow and Perth rated contact with nature as important or very important for physical and mental well-being (more than 97 percent of respondents from Perth indicated significance for mental and 85 percent for physical well-being, and more than 76 and 70 percent of respondents from Moscow, respectively).

When asked about the current state and possible improvements of urban green areas, the majority of respondents from both Moscow (55 percent) and Perth (77 percent) indicated that street greening activities would be the most desirable for them. Another popular answer was to increase the number of public parks and green spaces near their own homes. As for infrastructure, respondents in both cities indicated the need for more benches, as well as shady places and canopies from the rain. Residents of Moscow additionally noted the need to create water bodies (fountains and ponds) and gazebos, as well as modern landscape elements, such as green walls. This underlines the importance of improving urban green areas for improving the state of both the urban environment itself and the well-being of its residents.

Having analyzed the attitude of residents of Moscow and Perth to green zones and water bodies within the city, we can conclude that, despite the differences in the climate and socio-economic situation, the availability of "natural islands" is highly appreciated by all respondents. This confirms the idea that greening plays an extremely important role in ensuring the sustainability of cities in times of crisis, including such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We wanted to emphasize that urban greening and environmental issues in general should be fully worked out and included in program documents aimed at the strategic development of urban agglomerations. For modern urban residents, places that will allow them to maintain their health and well-being are fundamentally necessary. Such places, based on the results of our research, are parks, urban forests, squares, landscaped courtyards — green spaces in the open air. Rational planning of these places will allow not to close them in the conditions of crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, but, on the contrary, to make them accessible. This will be crucial for improving the overall sustainability of cities," Anastasia Konstantinova, head of the project, Candidate of Sociological Sciences, researcher at the Smart Urban Nature laboratory, RUDN University.

The study has been supported by the Russian Science Foundation. The results are published in Sustainability journal.

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