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Urban green is essential: the results of an European study after lockdown

How much we missed green and nature during the lockdown of Spring 2020?

A lot, and especially Italians missed this, at least judging by the results of an European study in which the Institute for the Bioeconomy of the National Research Council (NRC – Ibe) has participated.

The study, published on Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, is one of the first about the role of urban green during the emergency and it was carried out with an online questionnaire diffused by social networks and e-mail. They have been compared the attendance and the perception of citizens about the urban green areas in five European countries (Italy, Croatia, Lithuania, Slovenian, Spain) and in Israel during the lockdown due to Covid-19, between 1 April and 3 May 2020.

“From 2.540 answers, a differentiated attendance of urban areas between the countries emerged, determined by different health limitations. Italy and Spain, for example, the two countries most affected by the pandemic and with more stringent containment measures, have registered the highest percentage (64%) of respondents who stopped attending green areas. Citizens who did it had an essential reason, like walking the dog or doing exercise, while Croatian, Lithuanian and Slovenian substantially haven’t changed their habits. Moreover, health limitations have led to a greater diversification of the type of green areas attended, with the visitation of gardens and tree-lined streets (in Italy, Israel and Spain)or urban parks, close to home only, while in other countries the use of car to reach out of town areas has slightly increased, reflecting the dichotomy between the need for greenery and the use, in our own context, of un-eco-friendly vehicles”, said Francesca Ugolini, researcher of the NRC-Ibe and first study author.

“Who never go out during the lockdown, as in Italy, Israel and Spain, missed green areas a lot and only the view of a wide landscape from the window has helped to reduce the sense of deprivation”, continued Ugolini.

 Citizens mainly complained about the impossibility of “being outdoors” and “meeting other people” in green areas and, especially in Italy and Israel, also the impossibility of “observing nature”. These perceptions highlight the important social, environmental and cultural function of green areas as well as the environmental sensitivity of the respondents.

 In these regard, the study showed that the theme of green is very close to citizens: the final open question about the connection between urbanization, humans and nature, has gathered numerous thoughts that prove both the awareness of the importance to respect and protect nature in general and in particular to guarantee accessibility of a green area in an urban environment. Many suggestions have concerned some governance practicalities: an urban planning that integrates various types of easily accessible green areas in the urban fabric and a management that guarantees their quality, both in terms of choice of species and of maintenance. In addition to this, other suggestions have called for green mobility and more inclusion of citizens and their opinions in the decision-making processes.

 The study shows how the quality of life in residential fabrics is related to the presence of accessible green areas, even more during a social emergency and isolation phase. “This study has highlighted the importance of urban green areas for citizens, especially in a time of crisis like this. Urban green makes cities more comfortable and it is therefore desirable that politics and planning take into account the suggestions emerged”, concluded Ugolini.

VEG-GAP Project - LIFE18 PRE IT 003
Duration: December 2018 - May 2022
Total Budget: 1,666,667 Euro
European Financial Contribution: 1,000,000 Euro
Coordinated by Mihaela Mircea, ENEA (IT)