Analysis: More than 9 out of 10 respondents to a new survey believe Dublin parks are a good use of taxpayer's money

By Marcos Dias, Carol Barron and Mary-Jane Emmett, DCU

When the first Covid-related lockdown came into place in March 2020, Dublin citizens suddenly lost their ability to move freely through the space of the city. The introduction of the 2km travel limit and the closure of public and private settings impacted even further on citizen’s mobility. They also put into perspective the importance of local parks as they became the places to escape from the negative impact of the pandemic on mental, physical and social health.

In March 2021, we launched a major survey across the Greater Dublin Area to identify the important roles and functions that Dublin parks fulfilled for all citizens during the pandemic, and how these roles could be sustained afterwards. Our survey received responses from 2,237 adult and child residents. Nearly 9 out of 10 respondents stated that they had access to a public park, and more than 9 out of 10 respondents agreed or strongly agreed that Dublin parks are a good use of taxpayer’s money.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Ryan Tubridy Show, Carol Barron on the DCU survey looking at the role that Dublin parks have had for adults, children and teenagers during the pandemic

One of our main findings was the significant increase in park usage and length of stay in parks during lockdown, especially during weekdays. This is strongly related to two factors: proximity to the park and adult respondents working from home. The convenience of access combined with the flexibility of working from home enabled respondents to visit their local park during work days (Monday to Friday) as a means of 'getting out of the house’.

The two most common reasons stated for visiting parks were walking and to improve health and wellbeing. In the absence of places to meet up during lockdown, the social aspect of parks was highlighted by many respondents.

Respondents went to the park to meet up with friends and family, while others who lived alone also visited parks for social interaction: ‘If you're feeling low, there's always someone who will greet you. So if I don't see anyone for the rest of the day and feel lonely I know I have my stimulus waiting for me the next morning’ (female, aged 65-74). Respondents identified the most important activities they would like to see in their parks in the near future as open air markets (27% of respondents), family days (20%), music concerts (16%) and cultural events (14%).

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From RTÉ Archives, George Devlin reports for RTÉ News in 1975 on a new nature trail in Dublin's Phoenix Park

It is important to emphasise that the variety of interests across different ages and groups can be contradictory at times. Many respondents praised parks for catering to dog owners, but the third most common issue mentioned by respondents (30%), which acted as a barrier to them visiting urban public parks was dog fouling. While adult exercise equipment is a common sight across many parks in Dublin, very few of the adult respondents mentioned using such equipment, though it was quite popular with children despite age limit warnings.

The lack of infrastructure in park was one of the main issues pointed out by respondents, with the lack of toilets being the number one issue (42%). This is particularly relevant when we consider the increase in usage of parks and the longer time spent in parks. This was followed by ‘overcrowding’ (33.3%), which emphasises the increased usage of parks during the lockdown periods. Many respondents expressed the desire for longer opening hours and for sheltered areas, which would facilitate the use of parks during the winter and in changeable weather conditions.

During the pandemic, Dublin parks have clearly been a valuable resource for citizens

Another interesting pattern identified through our research was the fact that 72% of respondents stated that they had visited other parks since the pandemic started, enabling them to benefit from different scenery and activities that are unique to certain parks. As Dublin citizens start exploring the benefits of parks other than their local ones, the importance of mobility through sustainable means comes into focus. While the majority of respondents (78%) walked to the park, 17% went by car, while only 5% used a bike or scooter and less than 1% used public transportation. As the distance to the park increased, the usage of cars as a method of transport increased significantly.

When we launched the survey, our expectation was to identify the changes in usage of Dublin parks that were beneficial to citizens, and how these positive changes could be sustained. During the pandemic, Dublin parks have clearly been a valuable resource for citizens. We hope that their increased importance in our everyday lives will warrant further investment from Government and local councils that are informed by the diversity of needs and desires of its citizens.

The report is now available online. This research was partly funded by Dublin City Council, Publishing Fund from the School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health and the COVID-19 Research Grant, DCU

Dr Marcos Dias is an Assistant Professor in the School of Communications in DCU. His book, The Machinic City: Media, Performance and Participation (2021), is published by Manchester University Press. Dr Carol Barron is an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health in DCU. Mary-Jane Emmett is a Research Assistant in the School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health at DCU.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ