The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on the demand for different shades of green.
COVID-19 has heightened the dependence of urban dwellers on cultural ecosystem services provided by urban green spaces (UGS), specifically in regard to the provision of recreational opportunities, and psychological and physical health benefits arising from their use. As different types and levels of cultural ecosystem services are provided by different types of UGS, people may seek out different UGS to satisfy personal needs over various phases of COVID-19 mobility restrictions imposed by cities. We report on a study that took advantage of the different phases of COVID-19 mobility restrictions to assess the demand for and perception of different types of UGS in Singapore. The study utilised four datasets to compare demand for and visitorship patterns of UGS before the pandemic (Pre-Circuit Breaker), the duration of the strictest mobility restrictions (Circuit Breaker), and after the measures were relaxed (Post-Circuit Breaker). We used Google Search trends as a proxy for UGS demand, Google mobility data for an overview of population visitorship trends, visitor counts for granular insights on actual visitorship trends, and qualitative data on perception of parks by park visitors after restrictions eased. Parks were categorised as manicured and less manicured UGS for analysis. Search interest for UGS overall fell by more than 50% from during Circuit Breaker but the post-Circuit Breaker levels exceeded pre-Circuit Breaker, with a 70.9% increase for less manicured UGS compared to 20.8% for manicured UGS. This corroborated with Google mobility and visitor counts, which showed a steep decrease in park use followed by a rapid increase in the same periods, and with increased visitorship in the less manicured UGS. The perception study also showed that more than 50% of respondents reported visiting parks that they have never visited before, and there was a greater appreciation and use of UGS after the pandemic and preference for less manicured and more naturalistic landscapes. The pandemic has heightened the demand for cultural ecosystem services provided by UGS. Our study showed that this demand is not uniform across different types of UGS, with an increase visitorship and preference for less manicured green spaces.