Dr Zana Vathi
As the press has recently highlighted, walking is both an expression as well as a means to develop positive relationships with the outdoors. But is the ‘outdoors’ a flat realm within the Anthropocene? The inequalities of urban inhabitation are widely known and talked about. Since COVID-19 blurred the boundaries of the private and public while extending the urban lives beyond the urban perimeters, those same inequalities were extended and made more visible, too.
Recently formed minority groups that explore the green areas were given a boost by COVID-19. FootstepsNW is one of these initiatives operating in the North West of the UK, working closely with CPRE, the Countryside Charity – Lancashire, Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester.
But green spaces close to home can still be inaccessible by ethnic minorities. Often concentrated in areas lacking green spaces, minorities can be spatially excluded from the green areas. Yet, community regeneration projects often make greening of abandoned urban areas a priority and amazing results have been celebrated in areas in Liverpool.
Living sustainably in urban cohesion, and equally inhabiting public spaces can only mean caring for and cultivating urban green spaces together. As the pandemic exposed the importance of immediate green areas for the urban communities, a new awareness of co-existence and new forms of urban mixing were developed and can be further forged. Community projects and in particular green areas and community gardens help with bringing people together in these areas, improving wellbeing.
The pandemic posed additional challenges, while creating opportunities for new ways of working or establishing connection between sectors and professionals, and migrants and minorities. The implementation of integration strategies by the local authorities were challenged by lockdown and the greater need for outreach of the most vulnerable among migrants and ethnic minorities. A blurring of the state and charity action to contribute to those most in need was also noted, while online support for those affected emotionally and mentally was made a priority from the charities with experience in this area. Online communication also enabled the overburdened NHS to coordinate with other sectors and new understandings on migrant and minority vulnerabilities were formed.
However, stepping away from online communication and collaboration means stepping back into urban mobilities and convivial interactions. Isolation and constrained local lives as a result of lockdown render green spaces as key urban infrastructures to realize these local mobilities and connections during the pandemic. Research in these areas has the potential to enable, channel and thread local narratives that go beyond the divisions based on ethnic and social diversity.