Changing Norms: Analyzing Social Media Data on Changes in Perception of Parks and Green Spaces Before and After the COVID 19 Pandemic Using a Machine Learning Approach

“Tweet” more about nature and spiritual experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic

The findings indicate that the pandemic transformed how people view parks and green spaces in the Eastern Tri-State Area during the initial pandemic surge. The model-based subject classification method and longitudinal clustering results proved legitimate for understanding human interest domains related to parks and green space experiences. Unsurprisingly, topics associated with COVID-19 safety measures (e.g. wearing a mask, staying home, and social distancing) showed a significant increase in tweet data as they were grouped in a discrete category (Cluster C). It is also understandable that traditional park activities (e.g., playing ball, biking or running, walking the dog) are still prominent topics on social media, as depicted in Group B The fact that there were no dramatic changes in traditional park usage patterns between pre- and post-COVID tweets reflects that people may still find value in what they were doing in the past. parks and green spaces, and these recreational activities may have been perceived as sufficiently safe when practiced alone or with immediate family.

Interestingly, people’s interests have noticeably shifted towards natural components after the pandemic. This change is likely related to the positive sentimental attachment to parks and green spaces, as identified in groups A and D. For example, “feeling fresh air” appears to be a core value in people’s experiences when from the first shock of the pandemic. In fact, some passive experiences such as birdwatching or listening to birds and water sounds weren’t very common in pre-COVID tweets, but have become important experiences as the pandemic continues. was intensifying. More importantly, the emotional and spiritual expressions elicited by people’s interaction with nature (e.g., loving and thanking nature and God) seemed to be an emerging but strong theme in post-COVID tweets in every state and across the country. study region. These results are aligned with previous public health research findings that have clinically proven the benefits of nature during the pandemic. Part of the research includes horticultural therapy where nature has significantly reduced the plasma level of IL-6 and shown the potential to prevent inflammatory disorders and hematopoietic support35. Nature has also been shown to have effects on stronger frontal alpha asymmetry (FAA) values, which is commonly associated with approach-related motivation and positive emotions.36. In addition to the horticultural effects of nature, Ng et al.37 highlight the critical roles of social connectedness as a social determinant of health (e.g. amelioration of massive inflammation triggered by COVID-19), implying the importance of public parks as natural and social space.

The results of this study suggest that people have become more attentive to natural features and conditions than before the pandemic, have begun to link exposure to nature with sentimental and spiritual well-being, and have re-appreciated natural values ​​and sanitary facilities in public green spaces compared to their typical recreational use. and aesthetic aspects. Although this study cannot claim a direct correlation between spiritual well-being motivation and park attendance (Irvine et al.38 for relevant research), emotional and spiritual well-being benefits, anticipated or unanticipated, likely impacted positive park experiences and outcomes. This finding suggests that the benefits of public green spaces can be extended to a dimension of spirituality where people experience self-reflection, introspection, meditation and other inner feelings.39. These feelings are known to be benefits of remote wilderness areas, but they have not often been associated with public green spaces at the local level.

The results could have been influenced by the general increase in the number of tweets about parks and green spaces in 2020, which in itself is inspiring, as it indicates an emerging public interest in parks and green spaces at the level personal communication. Nonetheless, people’s renewed appreciation for nature and the immediate connection to emotional and metaphysical realms illuminate the prominent roles that parks and green spaces are playing during the pandemic. The overall mood of the tweet data set, however, has shifted to a more negative tone, which is likely due to the severity of the pandemic rather than park visits and experiences.

Advantages and disadvantages of using social media data

As social media data has become increasingly abundant, it is used as the primary data source in many studies of human-environment interactions to investigate broader patterns of human interest and experience.40.41. The biggest advantage of using social media data is that it can minimize subject response bias because respondents are unaware of the intent of the study.42. In other words, the data collected is a collection of spontaneous responses from test subjects, which can then be used as input data for analysis. However, in a typical social survey, respondents may have a prior perception of the intent of the survey because they are informed and aware of the research objectives before participating in the survey. Additionally, survey instruments can only take responses at a specific time and may not reflect actual perception trends over a longer period. Another strength of the social media approach is the ability to get a full (literally all) set of data that meets certain search-defined conditions (in our case, all Twitter posts containing pre-defined keywords) during a desired period of time. On the other hand, it is often difficult for social surveys to obtain sufficient samples. A known caveat of the social media approach, however, is that the sample data is limited to social media users and does not capture potential respondents who are not on social media platforms. Moreover, provided that tweets are voluntary expressions of personal feelings and instantaneous thoughts, the language of Twitter messages is assumed to represent only the individual cognition of social media users and their deep insights into their experiences. Nevertheless, it is a valid approach to deal with time-sensitive phenomena such as the pandemic from a large amount of data that is relatively easily available and has been trained voluntarily and instantaneously.

In unique circumstances such as COVID-19, data collection is particularly limited by time and sampling. Since random sampling is often not viable, researchers tend to rely on convenience sampling for easy and quick access to target subjects. In fact, many recent studies have capitalized on this type of method by adding questions related to COVID-19 to existing surveys or by creating a rapid questionnaire to sample a population that is easy to contact or reach, which poses a problem of generalization.

Summary and future research

This study attempted to understand people’s perception changes in their interactions with parks and green spaces during the early months of COVID-19 using social media data combined with a machine learning approach. We’ve categorized tweet data keywords into 19 topics to understand what new metrics people have started liking in parks and green spaces compared to the pre-COVID era. The results demonstrate that people were more inclined to enjoy the natural experiences in these spaces and tended to connect them to their emotional and spiritual realms, as evidenced by these very common themes across all three states in this study. Although geographically split, the research found that there is a clear difference between the early period impacted by COVID and the unimpacted years in that people perceived nature in public green spaces as a substantial emotional and spiritual lift. . Most parks and recreation studies have almost exclusively examined whether park use has increased or decreased during the pandemic, but this research has focused more on whether and how park user experiences were felt differently beyond the simple extended visit pattern. The study demonstrates a new pattern of more nature-based activities in public green spaces and how natural components have been important in people’s emotional and spiritual experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the study focused on identifying the general pattern from nature-related tweeter texts, more biological and scientific research would be needed to better understand the mechanism by which exposure to the park benefits health. mental, emotional and spiritual.

Implications of this research include the emergent and adaptive roles of public green spaces, in response to changing human needs in disruptive phenomena. The study suggests a deliberate incorporation of biophysical attributes of wilderness (e.g., elevations, water, naturalness, landscapes and unique landscapes) into our public park systems to facilitate the emotional and spiritual dimensions of our experiences (e.g. feeling oneness with nature and oneness with oneself) in addition to typical park experiences43. We also argue that we need to position nature as a vital element in contemporary public park design and development decisions.

One of the limitations of this study is that we relied heavily on an indirect method to understand people’s nuanced feelings, meanings, ideas, and perceptions expressed through a social media platform. Therefore, the results only represent the general pattern of public perceptions rather than the direct thinking of individuals. As we continue to battle a further increase in COVID-19 cases caused by the highly transmissible Delta and Omicron variants, we are likely to experience lingering pandemic concerns, a new wave of restrictions on public gatherings and entry into a “with-COVID”. era. Future research needs to test whether the findings hold true in the post-Covid era as tweeter data accumulates. Future research also needs to understand the public’s true desire for parks and green spaces as as an essential and equitable resource in current and future health crises. The research program should bridge the gaps between the supply of parks and people’s new motivation to be safe in outdoor spaces during the pandemic. We plan to expand our analysis to the entire country within an extended timeframe to track extended trends over time.