“Stay inside” they said, from their mansions. It’s no wonder people have been turning on celebrities who preach what they haven’t had to practice. It’s easy to stay inside when your inside is big and spacious and outside.
“Look after your health” they said, from their second homes. Influencers have caught heat for fleeing New York City and heading across country, for more space. For their families. It’s easy to look after your health when you have the wealth to buy a back up plan.
“Stop being selfish” they said, from their homes with balconies and gardens and only one family living with them. Regular people are being shamed for using public spaces. Regular people are being shamed for not having the luxury of having in built access that makes living in a city a liveable life.
Our cities are unhealthy. The big ones especially.
The air pollution in London leads to the premature deaths of almost 10,000 people a year. Almost 10% of UK adults are involved in gig-economy work, with many picking up Deliveroo orders or Uber trips as a second job after their regular contracted hours are done. The London minimum wage is £8.21 an hour, well below the actual living wage of £10.75 an hour. Renters rights in the UK seem non- existent compared to other countries, but that’s barely important when there are 130,000 unlicensed private rentals in London alone.
Inner-city wealth disparity is nothing new, but it’s perhaps never been so apparent than it has become during the pandemic.
The people who can work from home vs the people who no longer have a job. The people who can financially survive this vs the people who cannot. The people who have space to isolate vs those whose households struggle to contain them. The people who have private outside space vs the people who are making use of public parks.
When you strip away the benefits of city living, you’re left with not very much. The history, for sure. Architecture maybe if that’s your bag. But when the culture closes down and the convenience of doorstep amenities becomes a restriction, you’re left with very little. The one saving grace, up until now, has been incredible access to public parks.
To privitise a public space is to punish the poor. But it’s also to punish the differently abled, those who struggle with poor mental health or mental illness, those who have unhealthy, unhappy, or downright dangerous living situations, those who are time poor as well as cash poor, and those who have found themselves stuck in an in-between. Access is about more than just price points.
Public parks are a lifeline. For those without gardens, for those who don’t want to be at home all that much. For those who fresh air can bring a clear head and happy lungs. For those who have nowhere else to go.
There are health benefits too, real ones proven by science. Vitamin D lowers blood pressure and improves brain function. Fresh air helps boost your serotonin levels. Sunlight helps regulate your sleep patterns. We all know the idea of taking a walk to clear your head.
So how can we conflate the advice to stay inside with the advice to look after our health? Why are people who have gardens and security and space so keen to police those who are just trying to achieve the same sense of stability?
And why can’t we enjoy public parks while taking sensible spacing precautions?
And to be clear, precautions must be taken. Large groups are a no go and distance is still important. But is sunbathing on the first hot day of the year in the middle of a pandemic whilst more than 2 metres away from anybody else really anything to close an entire park over?
Because whilst the parks may seem cramped compared to a normal day, this isn’t a normal day. Gyms are closed so people are jogging outside. Offices are closed so the morning walk to work has shifted to a walk in the park. And a walk to clear your head is the only form of escape from a constant negative drip of news and death tolls.
This pandemic could (and will) last for months and requires heavily on the majority of the population staying sane and stable in unprecedented circumstances. A daily walk, outside is recommended. Fresh air is recommended. Why can’t that be in a park?