Health, Wellbeing and the City Post-COVID-19

Krystallia Kamvasinou, Rachel Aldred & Nina Smyth (Psychology, School of Social Sciences)

Our team first came together to investigate the ‘Reuse of urban transport infrastructures as green space for people’s wellbeing’ when we received seed funding from the University of Westminster’s Sustainable Cities and Urban Environment’s Research Community in December 2019. Our project would look into unusual types of green space that have been produced as a result of the abandonment of railway lines or other types of transport infrastructure, and survey their reuse as green spaces/trails for wellbeing-related activities, including active travel and physical fitness, recreation, relaxation and contact with nature. However, as we were getting ready to proceed with fieldwork, COVID-19 hit. Instead of abandoning the research, we decided to take it online, adjusting its scope to an evolving situation.

‘Green space in London during COVID-19’ was our adapted proposal. To examine people’s experiences and get an insight into the impact of confinement and of daily exercise, we developed an online questionnaire survey. The survey run from early June to the end of July 2020 and owes a lot to the work of our Research Associate, Ameera Akl. We received nearly 1200 responses which was a remarkable achievement, indicating the importance of the topic for Londoners. Concurrently, we run a survey on ‘running through lockdown’, led by our Research Associate Holly Weir, as well an analysis of Twitter discourse around parks and exercise.

Further pilot research has since been funded by the Quintin Hogg Trust under the title ‘Adaptation of the public realm to COVID-19 and the impact on future planning and design of sustainable and healthy cities’. Acknowledging the current public health emergency as an extreme situation that allows for spatial experimentation, we reconsider two main public realm types – green space/ parks and streets. The research will be ongoing through 2020-2021. We believe that our findings will influence policy and contribute to a growing body of research on wellbeing in post-pandemic cities.