Green Space Availability and Onset Risk of Covid-19 in Hong Kong: A Spatial Justice Perspective

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As concerns arise about the impacts of urban environments on health outcomes and healthy lifestyles, urban researchers are increasingly investigating the associations between the built environment and public health (Ha et al., 2022, Luo et al., 2022). Public Green spaces (PGS) offer various ecosystem services to city dwellers. The literature generally endorses the view that exposure to natural environments, especially green spaces is vital, for its evidenced benefits to people’s health and well-being both through active participation and as a salutogenic environment (Nutsford et al., 2013) (Spotswood et al., 2021). Besides the distance to the nearest green space as a well-known factor, the health benefits of PGS, which has a lag effect and lasts for years (Wang et al., 2021), are also expected to be influenced by the usage frequency, duration, and intensity (Ha et al., 2022). The concept of spatial justice refers to the manifestation of the principle of justice in spatial production and the allocation of spatial resources (Soja, 2013). It is also concerned with PGS provision as one of the health resources. There was a groundswell of opinion that adequate access to green spaces is a common good for society that all citizens should equally benefit from. More accessible green spaces should be provided for building healthy cities in post-pandemic societies (Luo et al., 2022), although urban planners struggle to allocate UGS evenly (Jian et al., 2020). The outbreak of COVID-19 poses an unexpected threat to people’s health worldwide. As scientific models have demonstrated the effectiveness of social distancing restrictions on slowing down the transmission (Chen et al., 2022), a set of regulations to limit activities, particularly the free use of PGS, are imposed (Pan et al., 2021). However, many studies conducted during the pandemic show that inequity in the amount of PGS people can access has the potential to translate into inequities in mental and physical health both during and beyond the pandemic (Spotswood et al., 2021). PGS can provide more benefits to vulnerable groups by offering stronger protective effects. Marginalised groups worldwide may expose to a higher risk of certain diseases than more privileged groups for being excluded from access to PGS, particularly those vulnerable groups who are always labelled with lower income and education levels, age, and gender minorities (Sikorska et al., 2020, Sillman et al., 2022). On the other hand, maintaining a safe distance is challenging in many outdoor areas, especially in increasingly dense urban environments. For instance, despite the number of PGS visitors being decreased at the beginning of the social-distancing restriction, people were reported to have a higher demand for using PGS during the pandemic due to the unavailability of other activities (Liu and Wang, 2021). It is predicted that the total park visitation may exceed the pre-COVID baseline (Geng et al., 2021). Meanwhile, as the recent evidence shows that exposure to airborne viruses further arises from human population movements between places, higher accessibility to PGS also corresponds to a higher risk of infection spread as using PGS further increase the opportunity for people to meet face to face (Pan et al., 2021). PGS in this sense might give rise to the number of new cases, and negatively contribute to managing the outbreak of the pandemic by providing chances for people to cluster and spread the disease (Yao et al., 2021). Eventually, the government needs to release the restrictions to allow citizens to return to “normal” lives. Since the relationship between the availability (i.e., amount and accessibility) of green spaces and covid-19 cases in compact cities remain insufficiently explored (Ha et al., 2022), this research attempts to explore whether PGS with higher availability is linked to higher COVID-19 case rates and whether the PGS access related to COVID-19 case rates is linked to people’s socio-demographic characteristics in compact urban environments. Following this introduction, this paper is divided into four parts. The first part provides a brief account of the PGS visitation during COVID-19, followed by a general discussion of spatial justice with health considerations. We then describe the methods used to answer our research questions. We outlined the patterns of uneven distribution of PGS and explored the relationships between the availability of PGS and the onset risk of covid-19. The final part presents and concludes our findings, and suggests implications for future studies.
public green spaces, urbanism, public health, spatial justice