The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the use of and attitudes towards urban forests and green spaces: Exploring the instigators of change in Belgium
The COVID-19 pandemic has strongly impacted our society, producing drastic changes in people’s routines and daily mobility, and putting public spaces under a new light. This paper starts with the premise that the use of urban forests and green spaces - where and for who they were available and accessible - increased, when social restrictions were most stringent. It takes an explorative approach to examine changes in attitude towards urban forests and urban green spaces in terms of attraction (i.e., as the actual use behaviour), intended use (i.e., intention of going to green spaces), and civic engagement in relation to green spaces. In particular, it analyses the responses to a survey of 1987 respondents in Belgium and statistically examines the relationship between sociodemographic characteristics, urbanisation characteristics, actual and intended green space use, and changes in attitudes towards green spaces and civic engagement. The findings show that highly educated citizens experienced an increase in actual and intended use of green spaces during the pandemic, but that this increase differs among sociodemographic profiles such as impact of age or access to private green, and depends on their local built environment characteristics. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has strongly impacted citizens’ attitudes, as well as (intended) behaviour and civil engagement with respect to the green spaces in their area.