Nine in ten believe visiting urban parks helped improve their physical and mental health during lockdowns – DCU research

New research by Dublin City University and Dublin City Council, which looks at the changing patterns of park usage during the pandemic, highlights the importance of urban parks in helping to support people’s physical, social and psychological needs over the past 18 months. 

In a survey of over 2,237 Dublin residents, it found there was a significant increase in park usage during the lockdown, particularly during the working week, which became comparable to higher weekend levels pre lockdown, and visitors were spending much longer in the park than pre-lockdown. 

The two most common reasons respondents cited for visiting parks was for ‘walking’ and to improve their ‘health and wellbeing’, with 9 in 10 agreeing the park helped to improve their physical and mental health, allowing them to ‘clear the head’ and ‘get out of the house’. 

The importance of urban parks for socialising safely during the lockdown was also highlighted. Meeting friends and family helped reduce feelings of isolation and parks were viewed as a safe space where social distancing could be maintained. For people living alone or widowed, the park gave them an opportunity to reduce loneliness and interact with others.

Lack of toilet facilities was cited as the number one issue which impacted on park usage, followed by overcrowding. Even though people were using the park spaces to exercise, very few adult respondents mentioned using exercise equipment installed in these spaces.

Key Findings:

  • Significant increase in park usage during lockdown, particularly during working week 
  • 9 in 10 respondents agreed that visiting the park helped to improve their physical and mental health
  • Lack of toilets was highlighted as the number one issue, followed by overcrowding
  • More than 9 out of 10 agreed that Dublin parks are a good use of taxpayers money

Speaking about these findings, Dr Carol Barron, Assistant Professor in DCU’s School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health, said

“In light of the central role of urban public parks in meeting the physical, mental, emotional and social health of Dublin citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic, a more ecological approach to public health is justified and beneficial, with a stronger emphasis on modifiable environmental determinants for population level physical and mental health. Respondents valued urban parks equally for its mental health and physical health benefits during the COVID-19 lockdown.”

Dr Marcos Dias, Assistant Professor, DCU School of Communications, added:

“Parks have always been an essential asset in urban spaces across the world, but their added value has been enhanced by the COVID-19 pandemic, as they became the default place for socialising, relaxing and remaining active. The promotion of local park facilities and events must take into account the diversity of needs of Dublin’s citizens, their preferred communication channels, emerging modes of social interaction post-COVID and the changes in patterns of usage, including increased footfall during weekdays and longer stays.”

Mr Les Moore Head of Parks, Biodiversity and landscape Services at Dublin City Council said: “Dubliners in various media have expressed how important Parks and being close to nature have been to them during the pandemic for their mental and physical well-being. This study by DCU provides evidence and testimony of the importance of public parks for public health and supports the policy of Dublin City Council to invest in developing new parks in parts of the city where there is a deficit of access.” 

The research is a collaboration between DCU’s School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health, DCU School of Communications and Dublin City Council. It is hoped that the findings will be used to help inform planning and development policy in relation to public parks by DCC.

Dublin City Council part funded the project and the survey reached out to 1,337 adult and child residents within its catchment area. Just over half of all adult respondents were working remotely from home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The top four parks visited in the DCC catchment area were Saint Anne’s Park, Bushy Park, Griffith Park and Albert College Park.

Source: Dublin City University

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