With coronavirus demanding that we keep apart from others, parks are a vital place of respite—and a reminder of why we should invest in the wellbeing and joy of the publicby Rachel Connolly / March 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
The best park in the world is the Botanic Gardens in Belfast. It has the normal grassy areas and trees that all parks have and the added bonus of the Tropical Ravine, a humid greenhouse full of exotic rainforest plants; the Palm House, a colder greenhouse with more pedestrian plants, but still ones you wouldn’t see in a normal garden; an area with ponds, hanging trees and small bridges; and the rose gardens. None of these things charge for entry, and anyone can visit as often as they like. I quite often even see people using Botanic as a free backdrop for their wedding photos.
My own very fond associations with this particular park will always be from my teenage years, and memories of drinking cider, sitting on benches self-consciously reading books like On the Road, avoiding family arguments and conducting awkward dates. I’ll admit I’m probably biased in my ranking of the parks, but even when I went to New York and spent a sunny afternoon drinking beers in Central Park a few years ago it didn’t quite measure up to my memories of Botanic.
I’ve been thinking about parks a lot since last weekend, when I first started practising social distancing to help stall the spread of the coronavirus. The virus is so contagious it isn’t safe for us to be in close contact with people we don’t live with, if we can help it. Restaurants, bars and cafes were all told to close on Friday to deter people from meeting up in groups.
I’ll admit, a week in, I’m already finding the loss of a physical community psychologically difficult. Video calls just aren’t the same as physical meetings, no matter how high quality they are. More than that, there is something very sad about losing the potential for random encounters and knowing you won’t meet anyone you haven’t pre-arranged a call with, or anyone new, for months.
Of course, there are worse things than being denied pub trips. There are practical things we can do to help the most vulnerable and those who have lost work: signing up to a local mutual aid group (you can find yours here); scheduling regular calls with older relatives and immunocompromised friends who are completely isolated;…