Abstract: The importance of neighbourhood-level public space and its benefits have been discussed at large during the Covid-19 pandemic. While demands for public space increase, restrictions imposed by the containment policies such as social distancing and public space use have made profound health impacts on the general public. Such impact may further widen the gaps of existing health and social inequalities and engender well-being issues in vulnerable populations living in dense urban environments. To better understand vulnerable groups’ perception and experience of access to public spaces and its association with well-being, we conducted participatory action research during the pandemic (October 2020 to April 2021) via surveys, focus group discussions, mapping, and co-creation workshops in Sham Shui Po, a hyper-dense and poverty-stricken district in Hong Kong. Participants reported demands for public space use and its significance to well-being and pointed to several environmental and social factors that hindered their usage, including perceived safety, hygiene concerns, and issues between different genders and ethnic groups in the neighbourhood. Pandemic-containment measures and the fear of infections may contribute to heightened anxiety and stress to some degree among the participants. Directions for local interventions of spatial improvement were identified. Our study further highlights the strength of participatory action research for the development of more user-oriented planning solutions and the potential of community mapping and co-creation activities to empower vulnerable groups and enhance their spatial competence.
Keywords: Covid-19; high-density environment; Hong Kong; participatory action research; public space; urban planning; vulnerable groups; well-being