Earth Institute Research Projects

RAPID: Examining How Access to Green Space Impacts Subjective Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lead PI: Brian J. Mailloux , Professor Patricia J. Culligan , Megan Maurer Elizabeth Cook

Unit Affiliation: Barnard College; Columbia Engineering

July 2020 - June 2021
North America ; United States
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The aim of this project is to explore the connections among green space, perception of risk, and well-being in times of a public health emergency that require people to stay indoors and isolated. In a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic, the role of urban green spaces in promoting public health and well-being may be an especially important co-benefit of green infrastructure (GI) programs. However, there is simultaneous acknowledgement that being outdoors, even in green space, is a continuing source of risk for exposure and/or spread of COVID-19. Therefore, this research asks, how do variations in access to green space, whether due to lack of safe, nearby green space and/or the perceived risk associated with being outdoors in particular kinds of spaces during a public pandemic, impact well-being? To answer these questions, this study uses online surveys and video interviews with college students. These students have traveled home from their campuses, returning to a wide variety of residential and landscape forms, presenting an opportunity to conduct comparative study of how access to green space influences responses to current conditions and well-being. The survey, distributed via email, includes questions about well-being, outdoor activity, risk perception, and personal responses to social distancing/self-isolation measures. Interviewees, solicited from survey participants, will be asked questions about available outdoor green space and activity, lifestyle changes in response to COVID-19 and their effect on well-being, the role of outdoor activity in subjects' well-being, and barriers to outdoor activity under present circumstances. Both statistical analyses and qualitative coding analyses will be used to determine (a) subjects' access to different types of green space; (b) subjects' willingness to utilize green space with respect to type, accessibility, and risk perception; and (c) the association of (a) and (b) with subjects' well-being during the pandemic.

This study will expand knowledge on the co-benefits of green infrastructure (GI) programs, with an emphasis on the co-benefit of health and well-being during times of great stress. This study will allow determination of the impacts on well-being for a wide-range of green space types and accessibility, across and within landscape forms (urban, suburban, rural). As such, this study will contribute to understandings of how novel, large-scale stress-inducing events intersect with differences in green space type and access to contribute to inequalities in human well-being. By collecting data from a diverse study population located across a broad area this study will be able to make comparisons across a range of green space types and access. This will further understanding of the mechanisms by which green space affects well-being, applicable to a range of fields like public health, civil engineering, urban ecology, and urban design and planning. This research will address two primary broader implications for well-being in the face of current and future global pandemic-related challenges. First, this study examines how green space access affects well- being during social distancing/stay-at-home conditions, such as those experienced by more than three-fifths of the US population. Second, this study will provide detailed information on subjects' choices and behaviors regarding outdoor recreation during social distancing/stay-at-home conditions, including risk perception and beliefs about the importance of green space access. Together these data will be used to inform current and future preparations and responses to pandemics and other extreme emergency circumstances through recommendations on outdoor recreation, well-being, and current and future planned GI design. Attention to characteristics of neighborhoods by type of building and by population characteristics will support GI planning and implementation by providing fine spatial resolution for the integration of GI contributions to well-being with GI contributions to stormwater management and other environmental benefits.