Informing the design of urban green and blue spaces through an understanding of Europeans' usage and preferences.
In light of global climate change and the biodiversity crisis, making cities more resilient through an adjusted design of urban green and blue spaces is crucial. Nature-based solutions help address these challenges while providing opportunities for nature experiences, and providing cultural ecosystem services that support public health. The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated stressors highlighted the interrelated socio-ecological services provided by nature-based solutions like urban green and blue spaces. This pan-European study therefore aimed to enhance the socio-ecological understanding of green and blue spaces to support their design and management. Using an online survey, green and blue space preferences, usage, and pandemic-related changes in greenspace visit and outdoor recreation frequencies were examined. Greenspace visit and outdoor recreation frequencies were associated with respondents' (N = 584 from 15 countries) geographical location, dominant type of neighbourhood greenspace and greenspace availability during the pandemic, but not greenspace perceptions or sociodemographic background. Greenspace visit and outdoor recreation frequencies were generally high; however, Southern Europeans reported lower greenspace visit and outdoor recreation frequencies both before and during the pandemic than Northern Europeans. Many Southern Europeans also reported having few neighbourhood greenspaces and low greenspace availability during the pandemic. The most common outdoor recreational activity among respondents before the pandemic was walking or running with the most frequently stated purpose of time spent outdoors being restorative in nature (i.e. relaxing or calming down). Most Europeans had positive perceptions of green and blue spaces with preferences for structurally diverse and natural or unmanaged green elements. This highlights the importance of accessible green and blue spaces both in everyday life and during times of crisis. Stakeholders, their preferences, and regional and cultural differences should be included in the co-design of urban green and blue spaces to maximize their potential for both people and nature.