The COVID-19 pandemic that erupted at the end of 2019 has significantly and in multiple ways affected the everyday life, the practices, and the perceptions of the global population [1
]. In order to limit the spread of the virus, national governments, often under the guidance of international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), have adopted a series of emergency measures to protect citizens and public health, measures that vary from country to country and from city to city [3
]. These measures focus on social distancing, suspension of economic, educational and cultural activities, as well as restrictions on citizens’ mobility.
Lockdown measures have created new conditions for the cities and everyday life [3
] and led to a widening of social inequalities related to access to housing, the health care system, technology, and labor; these inequalities make women, people with disabilities, precarious workers, poor people, and ethnic minorities even more vulnerable [5
]. The increase in social inequalities is a fact of special importance for the active population [7
]. Working conditions have changed significantly for a large part of the population, mainly by expanding and deepening trends that existed before the COVID-19 crisis [8
]. Strict sanitary measures have been applied in workplaces; teleworking and the use of technology have been boosted; many workers lost their jobs or found themselves unemployed; flexibility, insecurity, and precariousness have increased; employees in occupations critical for securing public health and supplying essentials for living (doctors, nurses, couriers, employees at food stores, etc.) have been overloaded with work. These changes in working conditions, in combination with changes in family routines [9
], urban mobility [10
], and social activities [12
] form a new unprecedented condition in the cities [13
Obviously, changes in working conditions do not affect everyone in the same way. As the COVID-19 crisis expands and deepens, the dominant discourse about the effects on labor is more and more consolidated in the direction of focusing almost exclusively on macroeconomic arguments and concerns; the result is financial recession, the rise of unemployment, and the adoption of flexible forms of labor [14
]. However, gender, age, marital status, as well as the type and the status of work are—among others factors—associated with differentiated perceptions, experiences, and practices of the active population during the lockdown [6
], a fact that is ignored or underestimated in the dominant academic, social, and political discourse.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has also had a profound impact on transport and mobility. Transformations of public space are directly related to the changes in urban mobility [17
]. Different social distance measures implemented in many cities to lessen transmission risks have significant effects on restricting travel and activity participation. Because of confinement, the changes in working conditions, and the reduced public activities, travel demand has decreased in many cities. Public transport use, road traffic, and everyday mobility have collapsed to very low levels due to curfew measures [18
]. Travel restrictions have discouraged the use of public transport. Public transport operators have sought to minimize risks through employing sanitization and physical distance policies for passengers (backdoor boarding, cashless operation) [20
]. People with access to a private car might be inclined to drive more as they are alone in their vehicle and, thus, more protected than in public transport. In cases of short trips, walking and cycling have increased, since social contact can easily be avoided during active travel. On the other hand, significant improvement in air quality and reductions in carbon emissions (CO2
), nitrogen dioxide (NO2
), and particulate matter (PM10) resulting from the decrease in transport activity have been recorded [20
]. However, these are short-term gains, and air pollution and emissions are expected to rise again once the situation is resolved. Moreover, the benefits of reduced transport during lockdowns have included significantly decreased road crash deaths and injuries [22
The first case of COVID-19 in Greece was detected on 28 February 2020, and the first restrictive measures were taken at the beginning of March 2020. Gradually, during March 2020 and as the cases increased, the measures for the protection of public health were escalated. Schools and universities were closed; commercial, leisure, entertainment, and cultural activities were suspended (excluding grocery stores, banks, and pharmacies); teleworking was imposed in public and private sectors; and access to public parks and beaches was banned. Strict traffic restrictions have been in force since 23 March 2020, with few exceptions. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece was over in the beginning of May 2020. Since 4 May 2020 the measures have been relaxed and economic activity has been restarted.
The public discourse about the impact of COVID-19 and the measures to deal with it in Greek cities during the first wave of the pandemic is particularly intense. Emphasis has been placed on the effects of the shrinking of everyday life within the domestic sphere and on the inequalities that have emerged in relation to this [24
]. Along with the impacts in the private space, the role, the function, and the surveillance of the public space has been seriously transformed. Public space is a field of special interest that became, in the context of the pandemic, not only an area of restrictions and exclusions, but also a place of relaxation and experimentation [13
]. The curfew has created new conditions for mobility in the city and has affected the modal split of the Greek cities [25
]. Moreover, institutional arrangements for emergency traffic measures and relatively ad hoc traffic interventions have opened the debate on how to make decisions, enhance citizens’ participation, and activate urban regeneration processes. Finally, the impact on the urban economy and local labor markets is a topic that has attracted much interest and raised questions about developing policies for mitigating financial recession and unemployment [26
The aim of this paper is to investigate the perceptions, experiences, and practices of the active population regarding everyday life in the context of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, by focusing on people who live and work in Greek cities. The data were collected using a structured questionnaire addressed to the adult active population. The paper intends to identify impacts on social life, emotional state, everyday activities, working conditions, mobility, as well as on perceptions about urban space and urban policies, and to correlate the findings with the social profile of the respondents.
The paper argues that, apart from obtaining a big picture of the multiple impacts of COVID-19 on urban life, emphasis on individual perceptions, experiences, and practices reveals areas of knowledge that would otherwise remain in the dark and enriches our understanding with more complex and more flexible variables. The ultimate purpose of this article is to provide useful information to policy makers to design more effective urban policies not only in Greek cities, but also elsewhere.
The paper is structured as follows: an introduction of the problem, namely, the effects of COVID-19 on the perceptions, the experiences, and the practices of everyday life appears in the beginning of the paper. The next section describes the methodological approach used and data collected. Then, the statistical analysis of the data is shown. Finally, based on the results of the analysis, we discuss how policy makers and stakeholders can exploit the analysis of this work.
2. Materials and Methods
The analysis of this paper was based on the data collected using a structured questionnaire, addressed to the active population of Greek cities. This questionnaire consisted of five parts. The first part included introductory questions regarding respondents’ opinions on the COVID-19 pandemic and whether this pandemic affected them in their everyday life, both emotionally and in their relationships with their family and their friends. The second part examined the impact of the pandemic on the working conditions of the respondents, the third one examined the impacts on their mobility, and the fourth one explored their perceptions about urban space. Finally, the fifth part recorded the socio-demographic data of the respondents.
The survey questionnaire consisted of closed-ended questions and the majority of the responses were measured using a five-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 to 5: 1: not at all, 2: little, 3: moderately, 4: much, 5: very much; or 1: much less, 2: little less, 3: the same, 4: little more, 5: much more.
2.2. Sample and Collection Method
The survey was conducted just after the lockdown from 6 to 27 May 2020 in Greek cities. The questionnaire was part of the work of the students of the MSc Environmental Design Program of the Hellenic Open University. Each one of the students received the questionnaire electronically, and a certain number of questionnaires, depending upon the demographics of gender, age, and educational distribution, according to the data retrieved from the internet site of the Hellenic Statistical Authority, were distributed [29
]. Only active respondents, aged over 18 years old and living in urban areas of continental Greece (excluding the islands) participated. The students collected the questionnaire in their city of residence; we excluded the members of their family, their close relatives, and their colleagues and distributed the questionnaires randomly in different places in the city at different times of the day and on different days of the week, depending upon the previous demographics. Considering that the students of the Hellenic Open University were spread all over Greece, the collected questionnaires were also spread across the country, and thus we received responses from the capital cities of 26 of the 39 prefectures in continental Greece. In particular, 39% of the respondents lived in the metropolitan area of Athens, 13% lived in the metropolitan area of Thessaloniki, and the rest in medium-sized cities. This distribution reflected the distribution of the population in urban areas, as 35% of the national population lives in the metropolitan area of Athens and 10% in the metropolitan area of Thessaloniki.
The sample size, in the case of the finite population, was calculated using the following equation [30
n is the sample size,
ME is the desired margin of error (for desired reliability, the acceptable maximum error is 0.05, with an associated 95% confidence interval),
N is the population size (adult population of Greece: 8,926,161 inhabitants),
p is the preliminary estimate of the proportion in the population (as the value of p was not known, the maximum value of 0.50 was assumed),
z is the two-tailed value of the standardized normal deviate associated with the desired level of confidence (for 95% confidence interval the value of z was equal to 1.96).
In our case, the desired margin of error of 5% resulted in 384 questionnaires. We decided to double this number to decrease even more the margin of error. For that, 740 questionnaires were initially collected. Because of the absence of relevant information, 10 questionnaires were considered invalid and excluded from the analysis. Finally, 730 questionnaires were considered valid and analyzed. The desired margin of error of this sample was only 3.63%.
2.3. Data Analysis
The perceptions, experiences, and practices of the active population that lives and works in Greek cities, regarding everyday life in the context of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, were statistically evaluated. Quantitative variables were indicated as mean ± standard deviation. Frequency analysis, percentages, cross tabulation, and chi-squared tests of independence were calculated for the categorical variables. The frequencies of observed and expected values were analyzed by means of cross tabulations. These frequencies revealed the relationships between cross-tabulated variables. The chi-square test for independence was used to determine whether the variables corresponding to the questions of the first two sections of the questionnaire were statistically related to the socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents. A 2-sided p-value less than 0.05 was considered to be significant.
For the construction of Binary Logistic Regression models, the following procedure was followed. The independent variables of the models were established using a stepwise method. Initially, all variables were included in each model, and then all variables having p-values less than 0.05 were eliminated. Then, all variables were added, one by one, to test if they were statistically significant, and also if they increased the predictive adequacy of the model. The independent values having a p-value < 0.05, with the entire model statistical data, are shown in the tables in the corresponding sections.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic major changes took place concerning the perceptions, experiences, and practices of the active population in the Greek cities. Lockdown destabilized people’s lives and affected their social activities, their emotional state, their everyday activities, their working conditions, their mobility, as well as their perceptions about urban space and urban policies in various ways.
The majority or a significant number of the respondents declared that their personal and family life was affected by the lockdown, but also that there were significant effects on their professional life and economic activities. According to the findings of our survey, emotional state was affected for many of the respondents. Stress and fear were two feelings that increased for a large part of our sample. Social activity was affected in two main ways: activities within the family increased and activities with friends were reduced. The impacts of the pandemic on working conditions presented multiple features: most respondents were still working, while many of them lost their jobs and many were in a “suspension” status; some respondents shifted to teleworking and others did not; some worked less and others worked more; some were more productive and others less. Urban mobility was a sector that was deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and our respondents stated major changes in their mobility practices, especially in commuting. In particular, most of the respondents reduced the frequency of commuting per week. Also, although the vast majority of the respondents used the same means of transport as before the pandemic, there was a slight but significant increase in cycling and walking. This is a positive sign and it can significantly contribute to sustainable mobility if these people retain this new habit. Finally, the relationship with the city and the neighborhood was radically changed for a significant percentage of the respondents. Additionally, concerns about urban space increased, especially as far as the quality of public space, walking conditions, and cycling facilities.
Although most of our findings presented a homogenous distribution in our sample, some changes in perceptions, experiences and practices were slightly or strongly correlated with the social profile of the respondents. For example, in many cases gender was a crucial factor, and women seemed to be more vulnerable to the new conditions, a finding that was in line with the outcomes of other research projects, surveys, and policy reports (e.g., [14
]). In particular, women felt more nervous, stressed, and scared; worked more; were affected more by teleworking; changed mobility practices more; and had stronger concerns about their neighborhood, walking facilities, and the quality of urban space than men. Moreover, age was another crucial factor that differentiated impacts on perceptions, experiences, and practices, as it was also found by other surveys [9
]. Younger respondents experienced a shrinking in their recreational activities, met their friends more often, and expressed their concern about cycling facilities, while older respondents felt more stress and fear, were more active within the family circle, and were more interested in the improvement of public space and walking conditions. Finally, family status seemed to differentiate experiences of the COVID-19 crisis. Most married respondents declared that they became closer to their family and did more activities with other family members. Also, married respondents felt more nervous, stressed, and scared than unmarried respondents, a fact that might be related to their concern about responding to family needs within an uncertain and fluid socioeconomic context. At the same time, singles felt lonelier, a fact that highlighted the importance of the family in social life in Greece.
The research approach of the paper gave us the chance to rethink aspects of urban space and mobility in the city in relation to the multiple needs, problems, and dynamics of employees. The lessons learned from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic were very useful for coping with the impacts of the coming waves, as well as with the impacts of future pandemics or crises on Greek cities. In this context, what is critical for the improvement of the resilience of Greek cities is to develop policies on urban mobility, public space, and urban infrastructure that take into account the different needs, problems, and dynamics of employees and the population in general and prevent the expansion of existing and the rise of new inequalities within urban spaces.
Challenges regarding mobility and public transport that emerged due to COVID-19 and especially the benefits of active mobility (walking, cycling) provide new impetus to transport and urban planners to rethink forms of mobility and urban planning. As the International Transport Forum highlights [18
], cities have to meet the triple challenge of “react, reboot, rethink” to continue providing creative social and economic activity, despite new health imperatives. In the medium and long run, it would be wiser to plan small and medium-sized cities and new or regenerated urban districts based on public transport and active mobility [20
]. Until now, integrated urban and transport planning is not a priority in many cities. Policy makers should concentrate on establishing new speed limits and ensuring larger spaces for cycling and pedestrians in order to enlarge distances between users in order to both safeguard an enhanced level of road safety and prevent COVID-19 spread. It is important to seize on the future opportunities in order to rethink cities with safer road traffic and no accidents in the aftermath of the pandemic [22
In closing, we claim that this paper contributes to the academic discourse about everyday life in the urban space, not only in Greece but also worldwide, in multiple ways. First, the academic elaborations that have been done so far are based mainly on empirical data and do not reveal quantitative aspects of the phenomena. Moreover, research on perceptions, experiences, and practices of urban life during the lockdown is still quite limited. Finally, investigating the experience of urban space and urban mobility in the context of the pandemic through the interrelation of urban space and labor enriches a discourse that has developed in recent years with new questions and concerns.