Visiting nearby natural settings supported wellbeing during Sweden’s “soft-touch” pandemic restrictions
The coronavirus pandemic entailed varying restrictions on access, movement and social behavior in populations around the world. Knowledge about how people coped with “soft-touch” restrictions can inform urban spatial planning strategies that enhance resilience against future pandemics.
We analyzed data from an online place-based survey on 2845 places across Sweden that respondents abstained from visiting, visited with similar frequency, or visited more frequently in spring 2020 as compared to before the pandemic. In spatial logistic regression models, we relate geographical and sociodemographic properties of places (fields, forests, water, residential population density and daytime population density) to self-perceived changes in wellbeing from visiting the given place less or more often, respectively.
Abstaining from visiting places with natural features located in areas of high residential density was associated with a self-perceived negative influence on wellbeing. Yet, fields, forests and water were strongly associated with places people claimed wellbeing benefits from during pandemic restrictions. The further a visited place was from the respondent’s home, the more likely it was to have a positive wellbeing influence.
As an illustrative case, we map our models onto the landscape of Stockholm, showing that some neighborhoods are likely more resilient than others when coping with pandemic restrictions. Both the most and least resilient neighborhoods span the socio-economic spectrum. Urban planning will do well to enable equitable, easy access to natural settings by foot or bike, to increase pandemic preparedness as well as support climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection.
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