One response to the COVID-19 pandemic by many cities around the world involved lockdown and social distancing requirements. In many places, this led to increased use of urban green infrastructure, such as parks, forests, and other protected natural areas. This study investigated whether the increased use of natural areas for recreation was sustained after the lockdown period in Oslo, Norway. The study also investigated (1) how changes in outdoor recreational activity and its intensity was distributed across different land use zones and (2) how recreational activity changed across different age groups in an urban population.
Researchers used mobile tracking data from 53,000 STRAVA users to explore the longevity of increases in recreational activity. STRAVA is a mobile application capable of tracking the GPS location of the user over the course of an outdoor activity. For each activity, the STRAVA recorded information – as inputted by the user -- about the age of the user, the type of activity (pedestrian or cycling) and the purpose of the activity (commuting for work or leisure). STRAVA then aligned the GPS information with the closest recreational or transport line configuration as defined by Oslo's OpenStreetMap.
STRAVA data indicated that during the first stages of the COVID-19 lockdown (March 12, 2020 to April 20, 2020), recreational use of outdoor spaces in and around Oslo increased by 240%. For the teen population (age 13 to 19), the sharpest increase in their share of the recreational activities occurred during March. Six months after the March lockdown and four months after lockdown restrictions were eased, outdoor recreational activity remained 89% above what one would have expected given the time of year and prevailing weather conditions. The increase in recreational activity occurred across all city land use zones, but the increase was especially noticed in city green spaces rather than residential and commercial zones. Teenagers and the elderly showed a larger increase in the use of forest areas than other age groups.
This study found that during and after the COVID lockdown, Oslo's inhabitants increased their time spent outdoors in green spaces within and outside of the city. This research thus provides some empirical evidence in support of the idea that the COVID pandemic may fundamentally change our relationship with public space. This research also highlights the value of urban nature and open spaces for pandemic preparedness, particularly for youths, during and after times of crisis.