Natural spaces, equity and COVID

Jacob Cramer is a Researcher & Planning Assistant with BC Healthy Communities.

Healthy Natural Environments have become some of our most coveted spaces during the COVID pandemic. Since the start of the public health crisis provincial leadership has encouraged residents to get outside and reap the health benefits of natural environments.

While being outside facilitates physical distancing and lowers the likelihood of COVID transmission, the real allure of our natural environments comes from their ability to reduce stress and depression and improve mental wellness; an area of health that is seeing great decline due to the pandemic. 

The inequities that COVID have highlighted and exacerbated across society extend to natural environments. The rise of pandemic gardens has been attributed more to their morale-boosting capabilities than a newfound love for vegetables. Yet among other resources, growing a garden takes space that many do not have access to. People experiencing homelessness have long faced backlash from the public when accessing public parks, but almost overnight these natural environments were deemed worthy for their use, only to be barred again just as quickly. We often think of access to greenspace as an issue for urbanites only, but the current public health crisis has made us consider the challenges small and rural communities face with large, unsustainable influxes in their communities and natural environments.

Will the future in B.C. continue with inequitable incomes that inhibit ownership of land needed to grow a garden? Will we treat the destinations and parks spaces we visit with greater respect for those who rely on the land and the economic opportunities it produces? Will parks serve only as baseball fields or emergency housing solutions, or can they be health-promoting spaces for all? 

The current public health crisis has resulted in natural environments and greenspaces are being reenvisioned and revalued. At BCHC, we think healthy natural environments should be spaces that improve health and well-being equitably. 

Thankfully, bold collective action is necessary and within reach. Local governments can use existing tools to leverage maximum quality and accessibility of natural environments and we should consider changes to policy and programming that better reflect the value healthy natural environments hold for our community members and our public health.

Get more information on how local governments can create equitable, sustainable, health-promoting natural environments in our new Healthy Natural Environments Action Guide, available via our PlanH program.

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