Connecticut study: Appreciation of nature reignited by COVID-19

View of beach from cliff. Photo: Courtesy: Coastside State Parks Association)

Many of the effects of the pandemic on our lives will undoubtedly continue for years to come. However, our perspective of nature has changed, according to UConn researchers, and the impact of these changes may last for quite some time. Nature Scientific Reports published the findings.

Sohyun Park, assistant professor in the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, observed some intriguing trends as people flocked to outdoor spaces for recreation in the spring of 2020. More people were on the trails, and many of those people had traveled from far away to enjoy nature. Park co-wrote a study analyzing the trends as a member of the Connecticut Trail Census team. In contrast to urban trails, Park notes, the usage of rural routes grew.

He and his team used social media data and machine learning techniques to help make sense of the enormous amounts of data on Twitter and try to find a pattern among those data. They used Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), which enables scientists to gather data from posts on Twitter.

“We were interested in learning from the people who had visited green spaces about their activities and Twitter posts. We used extremely cutting-edge machine learning techniques,” explains Park.

The researchers saw some substantial variations in term-usage between pre-pandemic and pandemic Twitter, with people regularly citing nature and their experiences inside it. However, what people were doing in the parks did not alter considerably.

In the past, people used keywords like “playing,” “walking the dog,” “baseball,” and other common, active park activities, but on post-2020 Twitter, other keywords emerged that express gratitude to God or love for the outdoors by describing the sounds of the birds chirping or the water.

The study’s findings revealed that people, especially those living in metropolitan areas, appeared to have developed fresh respect for nature and green spaces. As a landscape architect, Park was curious to find out whether there was more to the findings and whether they would have any design consequences.

“I’m proposing that parks are not just places for recreation; greenspaces and parks serve as necessary amenities for all, including the elderly, people with low incomes, and people with impairments,” he said, adding, “Parks need inclusive planning strategies that might be applied to the existing park development concepts”.



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