As Australia continues its high levels of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greener Spaces Better Places has come together to impress the importance of following government guidelines of physical distancing to safely use green and open spaces — critical for mental health and wellbeing during a time of increased community stress.

The significant toll on people’s mental health has been recognised by the Australian Government, with a $74 million boost for mental health services. 

Physical health can also be impacted by social isolation required to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

Dr Lyndal Plant from Urban Forester, a city greening policy strategist, says the physical and mental health benefits from nature could be even greater at this time, because of increased stress people are experiencing — especially in high-density urban areas such as apartment precincts without in-dwelling access to green space. 

“We already know that even small doses of green space are essential. For those not required to self-isolate, a 30-minute visit to a local park (practicing physical distancing) could leave you with an important dose of nature; with one Brisbane study finding a 7% reduction in self- reported depression and a 9% reduction in high blood pressure.

 Nature is there to help us stay physically and mentally strong and these benefits could be exponentially higher - at a time when we need it most,” says Plant. 

An expert on the human-nature relationship, Professor Tonia Gray, Western Sydney University explained nature gives joy to people on many levels, particularly in their ever-isolated lives. 

Given the unknown, but likely lengthy duration expected of isolation measures, Gray said access to nature will help maintain morale, so it’s vitally important these spaces remain accessible. 

“The restorative effects of nature cannot be underestimated, particularly in lieu of human to human connection. It’s a situation that causes us to reflect on our relationship with the natural world, and also, not take it for granted once our freedoms are restored," says Gray. 

“And it is very important for the community to talk to their local council about how much they value these green spaces, and also discuss ways they can do more urban greening in their backyards, balconies or inside their homes during this time.” 

City of Melbourne environment portfolio Chair Cr Cathy Oke explained how critical it is that we take all necessary steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, and that the City of Melbourne is committed to supporting these measures. 

“Our 480 hectares of beautiful parks and gardens are still open. People can walk and jog, and ride a bike where permitted – but please maintain 1.5m distance from other people and only exercise with one other person, or with people in your household, unless otherwise advised by the Chief Health Officer.” 

Brimbank City has been upgrading parks and streets for over a decade, investing $36m in upgrading 111 parks as part of its ongoing implementation of Creating Better Parks Policy and Plan. 

“Without this investment the community's resilience to deal with restrictions imposed by COVID-19 strategies may have been much less. A well-designed city supports people and liveability through mitigating the shocks and stresses from climate change and, now, a novel coronavirus,” says Adrian Gray, manager of urban design.