Your Maps of Life Under Lockdown

CityLab recently invited readers to draw maps of their worlds in the time of coronavirus. Already, more than 100 of you have responded to our call with an incredible range of interpretative maps, submitted from all over the world.

You charted how your homes, neighborhoods, cities and countries have transformed under social distancing and stay-at-home orders around the planet, from daily work routines and the routes of your “sanity walks,” to the people you miss and the places you fled.

While most used markers, pens, and computer-based drawing tools to sketch maps by hand, some used watercolors, clay, and photography. Some were humorous, others heart-wrenching — between them all, a full spectrum of quarantine-era emotion emerged.

Our submission portal for this project is still open, and we invite you to share your maps and stories here. Below is a selection of the maps we’ve received so far, with the aim of presenting a diversity of geographies and experiences. Accompanying the maps are some of the details you shared, edited for clarity.

Check back here often, as we’ll continue publishing more of your maps as we receive them.

“I deeply appreciate the privilege of where I live”

While drawing this map, I felt increasingly curious about how my neighborhood evolved. I particularly loved drawing the looming redwoods and clashing architecture.

While drawing my favorite businesses in the area, I took some artistic liberty with their roofs for fun. To be honest, I took artistic liberty with the whole map because I couldn’t remember the exact details of the buildings and their foliage. Even though this map isn’t accurate, looking at it makes me deeply appreciate the privilege of where I live during these strange times. Like everyone, I can’t frequent the businesses or really leave the house, but I still check in on neighbors virtually.

— Aditi Shah, Berkeley, California

“Hectic, to say the least”

I’m in graduate school and I’m staying with my mom, dad, and four younger siblings until I can move out in early May. It’s hectic, to say the least!

Things have changed: So much leisurely strolling and biking! Saving money by only going out for necessities! I’ve also really fallen in love with how cute Tampa bungalows are. I forgot!

— Alayna Delgado, Tampa, Florida

“The little things we took for granted.”

I have mapped the places that are etched in my memories. Being raised in a neighborhood that is socially very active and is located in the heart of downtown with all the necessary facilities available nearby has enabled me to make unforgettable memories, a glimpse of which I have shown in the map.

After living in a hostel for four years in a different city (Lahore), I had just come back to my hometown, but this sudden epidemic has made us realize the little things we took for granted. Coronavirus has no doubt changed our lives by making us stay indoors. I feel very nostalgic when I think about the activities that I used to do. Before Covid, I had a daily morning walk in the nearby park, went to the grocery weekly, shopping, hangouts for everything. But the activities have been minimized to zero. For now, my relationship with the neighborhood is limited.

— Amna Azeem, Sialkot, Pakistan

“From my place of peace”

From my place of peace, I imagine that the southern trees absorb the virus that comes from the north.

A lot has changed: We communicate more, we collaborate for food purchases and we are in solidarity with each other.

— Claudia Canedo Velasco, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

“Much of life here revolves around the bayou”

Just a quick sketch of Lacombe. Most residents here live along a bayou that feeds into Lake Pontchartrain, but there is a small “downtown” near a bend on Highway 190. I wanted to include Bayou Adventure, which functions a little like town hall for Lacombe. They sell bait, rent kayaks, and sell hot food and beer. Sal & Judy’s is a staple Sicilian restaurant in town. Lafontaine Cemetery is where a yearly All Saints Day candle lighting is held. Bayou Lacombe is the only true “main street.”

The Tammany Trace, a bike/pedestrian trail on an old railroad, is shut down and the drawbridge over the bayou is stuck in the “up” position. Sal & Judy’s only offers take-out, as does Bayou Adventure. Local bar Da Crab Trap is closed temporarily. We’re fortunate that much of life here revolves around the bayou, and that’s still open. It’s easy to maintain a six-foot distance, but Lacombe is a small town and you miss those little conversations after work stopping in Bayou Adventure or Da Crab Trap.

— Brennan Walters, Lacombe, Louisiana

“I hope we don’t go back to the way it was before”

My map shows my house. After spending two weeks staying at home working and learning there, it’s like our world has shrunk into it. Only leaving for running and occasional shopping. The city seems so quiet and tranquil, the birds and the cats seem to like it.

All the cars are parked in the driveways, which is a nice change. We live close by a busy street and we feel there is a big difference in noise during rush hours. We see people going out more for biking and running than before. It’s overall a positive change. I hope we don’t go back to the way it was before, at least not all the way.

— Edda Ívarsdóttir, Iceland

“Everyone is outside more”

My map is focused around regular walking routes in our neighborhood. It shows the actual boundaries of Eastwood, a neighborhood within East Nashville, but the focus is the landmarks that my family has been frequently visiting during the pandemic.

During recent walks, we have developed much better relationships with our neighbors because everyone is outside more.

— Eric Hoke, Nashville, Tennessee

“My neighborhood has grown to ignore all state borders”

This is a map of the United States, as defined by where my friendships are. I just moved to San Diego, and have no attachment to it as a city. The cities I’m attached to are thousands of miles away from me, and I dearly miss the people in those cities. Quarantine has shrunk my world to just my house, but at the same time has reminded me that my world is much, much wider, and my connections span not only the country but the globe.

San Diego never felt like my neighborhood. It’s new. I didn’t choose to move here. I don’t know my neighbors, and they don’t know me. Now, due to self-isolation, I will not have the chance to explore the neighborhood or surrounding areas. I will not get to know the people. I will stay inside and talk to the people I already know.

It doesn’t matter if the people I know are one house away or 10 states away. They’re all equally accessible. As such, my neighborhood has grown to ignore all state borders and has become the people I loved before this crisis. I’ve been talking to friends daily, and have even had friends from separate groups meet one another. My neighborhood feels immensely spread apart and inaccessible, but my community feels very real.

— Ezra Silkes, San Diego, California

“I’ve noticed both kids getting more granular”

My son Jack will be six this year. We sat down and he wrote out the names of 10 places we walk by during our daily treks around the Northside of Richmond. (We are lucky to have plenty of sidewalks, his current and future schools, and many friends within walking distance.) He then drew our house on the map and guessed where things were. He added a river in our backyard for some reason, which would actually be very lovely to have right now.

Both of our kids (Jack’s sister Thea is 12) used to have the entire city as a neighborhood — bus trips and car trips to farmer’s markets, grandparents, ice cream shops. For the past month, our neighborhood has compressed into a two-mile radius. I’ve noticed both kids getting more granular. Thea is taking close-up photos of flowers, rocks, etc. on our walks. Jack wants to explore the alleys.

— Jack Sarvay, Richmond, Virginia

“An element of fear as we venture out for necessities”

More than ever, our little terraced house and garden have become a special sanctuary as we try to keep our family and those around us safe.

On the one hand, [there is] an element of fear as we venture out for necessities, yet on the other, a heightened feeling of compassion with our neighbors and with strangers, as we jointly face this challenge.

— James Hennessey, Northern Ireland

“So many places close by, yet nowhere to go”

Now that public transit is closed except for essential travel, my wanderings are limited to walking and running within about a five-mile radius from my home. On foot, the Potomac River seems more pronounced as a physical barrier, separating Washington, D.C., from me in Arlington, Virginia.

Although my neighborhood has always been walkable, the coronavirus emergency has changed my relationship to my neighborhood because most of the places I used to frequent are now closed. Having so many places close by and yet nowhere to go feels very paradoxical.

— Lauren Nelson, Arlington, Virginia

“All are following the rules of lockdown”

[My map] shows the site plan of my neighborhood, my routine during lockdown, my home and its plan.

We are getting to know our neighbors more as they are at home. There is cooperation and understanding between the neighbors. All are following the rules of lockdown and taking necessary precautions.

— Mrunmayi Sarvade, Solapur, Maharashtra, India

“It has disrupted the most essential element of city life”

Famous streets, cafes, beaches, and train stations [show the changing] relationship to public space during the pandemic. Milan’s cafes, Times Square, the Champs-Élysées, and even mosques, temples, and churches are free of humans.

The global pandemic has made society united in humanity’s survival. But it has also disrupted the most essential element of city life: public life.

— Nawaf Al Mushayt, Lisbon, Portugal

“My experienced world is now that of a four-year-old child”

After being restricted to taking walks no longer than 200 metres from home, I decided to map this area, counting in paces and measuring angles with a carpenter’s ruler. This way, I began to get familiar with the little world to which I was confined but did not know in detail.

My experienced world is now that of a four-year-old child — it’s interesting to go back there again.

— Richard Dury, Arzago d’Adda (Bergamo), Italy

“The Red and Black God is Netflix”

Being stuck in my apartment for the last few weeks, any adventures or grand journeys I go on have to be scaled down to match. (And since some of my friends were confused, the Red and Black God is Netflix.)

Everything seems so much farther away. Even the post office a few blocks away feels like a dangerous journey now.

— Stentor Danielson, Bellevue, Pennsylvania

“Nature is more apparent to me”

My map presents the magnificent trees on my walk around the block, all different in their shape, size, blooms and fauna they attract. I am dwarfed by enormous gum and fig trees, delighted by butterflies, enchanted by mushrooms in the sidewalk grass. The olive trees hearken to folk tales — it’s a rarity in Sydney’s climate to have any tree that bears fruit. It’s a pleasure to observe nature’s rhythms.

Working from home, I take these walks around the block and quiet backstreets. I enjoy the scent of jasmine, lorikeets squawking, butterflies in lilac hedges. With less cars and people around, nature is more apparent to me.

— Stephanie Bhim, Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

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Readers: Share Your Hand-Made Maps of Life Under Quarantine

When your daily commute shrinks to the distance between your bed and couch, the world can look pretty small. For essential workers venturing into a pandemic every day, it can also be terrifying. And among people in cities around the globe, illness, anxiety, and disrupted routines are focusing attention on the things that matter most in life, whether that’s a loved one, a source of income, or even a sunny spot by a window.  

Suffice to say, coronavirus is remapping our world — collectively and privately, literally and metaphorically. What does that look like for you?

We’re inviting readers to draw a map of your life, community, or broader world as you experience it under coronavirus. Your map can be as straightforward or subjective as you wish. You might show key destinations, beloved neighbors, a new daily routine, the people or restaurants you miss, the future city you hope to see, or anything else that’s become important to you right now. It might even be a map of your indoor life. For an added challenge, try drawing from memory.

A lovely example by reader Heinz von Eckartsberg in Melbourne, Australia, is shown above.

After you create your map, fill out our survey below (be sure to scroll down to hit “submit” once you’re done), then email us a photo or scanned version of your map to with subject line, “Mapping My Neighborhood.” CityLab will feature a selection of your submissions in an upcoming article.

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For Roommates Under Coronavirus Lockdown, There Are a Lot of New Rules

I was taking off my rubber gloves after a shift at a local food bank last week when I looked down to see a text from my roommate. “Heyo, all good?” he’d texted.

I recalled the scene I’d left back at home: a thermometer, sitting unsheathed on the dining room table. I’d forgotten to put it away, after checking to confirm that I had no hint of a fever and rushing out of the apartment three hours earlier.

Under normal circumstances, this ominous still life — Naked Thermometer, Just Used: Where’s Sarah? — wouldn’t be a cause for concern. As an adult, I had no responsibility to tell my roommate (a good friend!) where I was going, or when. But these are not normal circumstances, and I had failed to remind my apartment-mates about my volunteering plans. I apologized: It wouldn’t happen again.

As stay-at-home orders multiply and extend, and public health experts urge everyone to stop doing all but essential outside tasks in order to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections, the home has become the new locus of nearly everything: It’s your office, gym, restaurant, bar, cinema, and social club. Everyone who is lucky enough to have a house or apartment is there nearly all the time, or should be. That means spending a lot more time with the people inside it, or alone.

For many urban dwellers — particularly 20- (or 30- or 40-) somethings in expensive cities — that constant companion is often a roommate, with whom they’re sorted by circumstance, financial necessity, or, in my case, genuine affinity. The Pew Research Center and Zillow both found that in 2017, nearly a third of the U.S. adult population they surveyed was living in some sort of shared household. These cohabitators may not be family, nor even part of one’s “chosen family” (friends). But the coronavirus doesn’t care about that distinction: Sharing space means sharing germs, and all roommates have had to trust — or force — each other to make the whole household’s safety and well-being a priority, and prepare for the possibility that one of you could fall ill. Navigating these new responsibilities and intimacies is not always easy.

Sam Ozer-Staton, who lives in Brooklyn with two of his closest friends from childhood and now, one of his roommates’ girlfriends, said that their “quarantine pod” of four has been fixed since March 10. For weeks, they’d been living under “a general understanding of what was appropriate,” he said — everyone understood the stakes, and the importance of rigorous social distancing — but they hadn’t sat down and had an official conversation. Then Covid-19 cases in New York City surged, and they codified things: They agreed they’d only go out either to get groceries, take walks late at night, and exercise on the roof of their apartment; they wouldn’t allow anyone outside of the quarantine pod into the apartment, and they’d refrain from going into enclosed spaces, including other people’s homes.

“This notion that as adults you’d want to get your roommates’ consent to literally go on a walk goes against at least the vibes we’ve been trying to cultivate in our apartment, of personal agency and individual freedom, since we moved in a year ago,” he said. “But I think there’s both a level of trust, because we know each other, and also a deep empathy for what each other and all of us are going through.”

Other have pursued more dramatic interventions, or put off similar conversations only to have frustrations fester. Many people I contacted didn’t want to use their names in this story, for fear of alienating the roommates they were already feeling alienated by.

One woman cut her “social cluster” from three (her roommates) to one (her boyfriend), because she was getting overwhelmed by living in such close quarters; when her former roommates invited her over for a dinner party, she had to remind them that social distancing didn’t allow that, either.

Another woman in San Francisco also fled her apartment because her roommates weren’t taking things seriously and moved in with her boyfriend, who shared an apartment with four other people. It’s been great, she says: His pod agrees not to wear outside clothes inside, and they shower immediately after coming into the house after doing essential trips. But she’s now dealing with the looming fear that his other roommate, who’d left town before San Francisco’s shelter-in-place started, will return.

“Everything right now is as idyllic as can be given the circumstances,” she said in a Facebook message. “But hanging over our heads is the future where this roommate will be back and might not adhere to the social order we’ve established.”

Lillie lives with two roommates, one of whom lost her job and started upping her hours as a volunteer EMT. (She asked for me to use a pseudonym because she hasn’t discussed the issue with her roommates.) “She’s a HERO,” she wrote me in a DM, “but it feels very messy.” Because she’s afraid of being exposed to pathogens that the EMT may be bringing home, for the past two weeks Lillie has been staying with her father, who lives in the area. They plan to reunite in two weeks, but Lillie thinks she may have to move out altogether — her roommate is now applying to work in an emergency room.

Much of the roommate drama of the coronavirus era revolves around admitting partners or friends, and the germs they could bring with them. There are “one guest per person” policies and “no guests except this one partner we all like” policies and “if you leave to visit someone, don’t come back.” A D.C. woman who asked not to be named said she has been safely practicing social distancing and lives alone, but that her boyfriend’s roommate won’t allow the couple to travel between their apartments. (Other public health experts I spoke to agreed that no outside guests means no outside guests: Once the microbiome of one’s apartment is sealed, it should stay sealed. Obviously, the heart’s opinion may differ.)

One such roommate feud went viral on Twitter this week, when an immunocompromised Brigham Young University-Idaho student shared screenshots from a testy text exchange with her roommate on Twitter. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports, after she asked her roommate to stop having her boyfriend over, the roommate replied, “I’m glad that you are seeking to stay safe in this pandemic. That’s very wise. However, you can’t prevent me from having people over. So you can expect to see Brett over often :).” The Salt Lake County Health Department got involved, tweeting the hashtag “#StayHomeBrett,” which then started trending nationwide.

The Hearth, a seven-person co-op in Oakland united by their shared interest in life coaching, published an exhaustive list of quarantine guidelines for their and other communal houses. Jeremy Blanchard, a Hearth resident who started the doc, said he created it after a series of five intense house meetings in the eight days after the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place edict. The act of scouring public health recommendations talked him out of visiting his own partner. “Making the doc was what made me realize I can’t justify these exceptions,” he said.

Meeting the “Gold Standard” of safety at the Hearth means everyone in the house has gone 22 consecutive days without breaking the rules, which include always wearing a mask on necessary trips out and staying at least six feet away from all other non-residents. There are three modes of diligence: They’re in Yellow Mode currently because someone in the house had to make a hospital trip for an unrelated concern and restarted the 22-day cycle. That means essential visitors are relegated to the backyard. (If the house makes it to Green Mode, one guest at a time can come over with three hours notice, and permission — and only if the interloper’s house has practiced the Gold Standard, too.) The house has a daily cleaning checklist, and they’re quarantining their mail for 24 hours. They also do at least 15 minutes of mindfulness practice a day.

What happens if someone does end up getting sick? The Hearth has a plan for that, too:

The group house is currently on Yellow Mode; Red Mode kicks in if a member of the pod gets sick. (Screenshot: “😷Coronavirus Health Guidelines for Communal Houses – The Hearth”)

Communicating expectations is key to fostering a healthy dynamic, says Amy Canevello, a social psychologist at the University of North Carolina Charlotte who studies close relationships, including that of college roommates. So is understanding that group decisions aren’t “zero-sum.” If one roommate is scared of getting sick, and another is craving time with their partner, those needs — both of which have mental and physical health implications — don’t have to be diametrically opposed. Listen to the experts: Hang out online or on the street, six feet away, visit on their turf, or move in together; don’t invite someone into the home where your cautious roommate lives.

“One of the things that’s predicting who adheres to these stay-at-home orders is the people who understand that what they do is going to impact others,” Canevello said.

Some people just do not treat the relationship they have with their roommate as one that’s symbiotic. Christina, for example, told me that her roommate just absconded from the Manhattan apartment they shared, jumping ship with four hours’ notice and leaving behind “all his mess and none of his rent or utilities due in 2 days!” Now her landlord is going to pocket the security deposit, she says.

Those kinds of relationships will suffer most from the stress of the pandemic, Canevello says. “One of the things that determines whether the relationship gets stronger or goes south is [whether we’re] recognizing that we are dependent on each other,” she said. “When your well-being and the other person’s well-being are highly linked, I think you’re going to see more pro-sociality and empathy and perspective-taking, versus if you see yourself as completely independent of your roommate.”

Even after living in the Hearth for five years, and other bigger co-ops before that, Blanchard says this quarantine has raised the stakes of group living to new levels. “I cannot think of a single comparable situation where my actions so drastically affect everyone else in the house,” he said. If his roommates ask him to stop playing loud music, he can just play it in the park. “If I leave the house and hug someone, I’m putting six other people’s health at risk, and I won’t even know it for weeks and weeks into the future.”

Residents of the Hearth, a communal house in Oakland, play a game designed by roommate Molly. It was the “first time having fun together amidst a ton of meetings to create our guidelines,” says another roommate, Jeremy Blanchard. (Molly McLeod)

Unsurprisingly, the link between isolated roommates — bored, alone, craving touch — sometimes turns sexual or romantic. Once primarily a repository for complaints, Reddit’s r/relationships board now features some stay-at-home meet cutes: Here’s one featuring two male flatmates (one of whom identifies as “mostly straight,” one bi) who appear to be drifting into a romantic entanglement. Vice recently featured six housemates who started hooking up in earnest while isolating. “I’ve been basically in love with my roommate for the past six months, and now that we’re in quarantine, we’ve been drunk-talking over boxed wine and frozen taquitos until 6 or 7 a.m. when the sun comes up,” reads a submission from Annie. “LAST NIGHT SHE KISSED ME AND I’M SO HAPPY TO BE STUCK WITH HER.”

There’s even a new platonic intimacy between those quarantined together, if only because they’re the other human bodies around. “There’s something beautiful and freeing of being like, OK, within your own home you can do the dishes together, you can sit close to each other,” said Ozer-Staton.

But familiarity can also get grating. Amanda Feigin, 25, who lives in Minneapolis in a house with five friends from college, says she instituted a “no repeats rule” for coronavirus-related conversations. “You can only offer up new information regarding the coronavirus to eliminate the repetitive/echoed conversations that add stress and anxiety,” she wrote in an Instagram DM. They’d been talking in circles, she said, and wanted to focus on other things. (She’s since fled for Iowa to be with her boyfriend and his family.)

Dylan, who asked not to be identified by his real name, moved in with his best friend a year and a half ago, a step that made their tumultuous alliance even stormier. “When the whole virus stuff happened we had just had probably the biggest fight we’d ever had two days before,” he said, about whether or not to go stock up on pre-quarantine supplies. (Of course, it was really about everything.) Dylan tried to get some space, which is hard to do while confined to the same one, and things deteriorated quickly. Last week, they had a conversation where they “officially ended it.”

“It’s kind of like getting a divorce: It’s very sad. You know you still want to do it, but it’s overwhelmingly sad,” he said. “When I get in that mood and I think nostalgically about things … it’s not necessarily wanting it but not hating that you’re physically close, because it just makes it easier to handle. Even if it can be kind of awkward.” Dylan is planning on sticking it out in the apartment to the end of his lease, which runs through the fall.

My own relationship with my new quarantine colleagues reminds me of Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian novel about a world post-pandemic. In it, the protagonist Kristen works her way through the country with a traveling Shakespeare troupe of actors and musicians. The virus has already done its worst, so disease isn’t the enemy anymore — cults and bandits are. But in a dangerous world, the characters find safety (and drama, and messiness, and annoyance) in sleeping, eating, and moving through the world with the same steadfast crew.

Your coronavirus support network doesn’t have to literally reside in your apartment for them to matter, says Canevello, who lives in North Carolina with her dog and no roommates — indeed, sometimes it’s better if they don’t. Moving back in with parents or other older family members, for example, can put more lives at risk. And while living with partners can affirm the reason you’re together in the first place, it can also end the partnerships entirely — reports from China show that divorce rates rose in March, after weeks bound in unbearable mutual isolation.

Ozer-Staton is grateful to have the company, and says he thinks he and his roommates, already uniquely bonded, will leave this experience even closer. “I don’t think I can think of any relationship as intimate as the one that I’m experiencing now with my roommates,” he said. “Other than familial or romantic relationships in the past.” Over the weekend, the pod received matching shirts, sent from a roommates’ mom, that read “Quaran-Team.”

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Under Coronavirus, Nature Becomes an Essential Service

Danny Leong knows how to find nature in unexpected places. A Ph.D. candidate studying entomology and urban ecology in Macau, he earned the moniker of “Macau Ant Man” in 2017, after discovering a new species of the insect in the most densely peopled region on earth.

That knack for hidden wildlife will be handy when Leong leads his hometown into the City Nature Challenge next month. For three days every April, the global event encourages regular people to look for wildlife in their communities and post observations onto the app iNaturalist, netting everything from daddy long-legs and dogwood trees to rare orchids and red-faced warblers. Species are then tallied up for each city. Since 2018, Leong has coordinated Macau schools, museums, and universities to get locals, especially children, hunting in nearby parks and gardens.

But this year will be different. As in cities around the world, the 650,000 residents of Macau are restricted from non-essential trips outside their homes, in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (So far, the Chinese territory has been strikingly successful in that fight.) In a tight, vertical city where windowsills and balconies are the closet thing most residents have to a yard, that means this year’s Nature Challenge will have to scale down to whatever can be found in an apartment — even if it’s a bug under the sink, or a houseplant basking in the sun.

“This is a good time for self-modification about how we can reach nature,” Leong said. “A cockroach is still part of the ecosystem, too.”

The City Nature Challenge is one of many ways that people around the world are shifting their relationship to the natural environment at a time when access to shared outdoor space has rarely been so fraught. In many countries, forests and recreational areas have closed to the public in keeping with quarantines. Out-of-neighborhood travel is discouraged or even banned, canceling plans for springtime camping trips or cabin visits. Though most shelter-at-home orders allow for outdoor exercise, questions still swirl about the safety of visiting public areas. In some cities, popular parks and beaches have shut their gates after large crowds proved dangerous for public health. A recent New York Times headline summed up “the new terror, and the intensifying debate, over going outside.”

But for some scientists, researchers, and stay-at-home civilians, the pandemic age may also be a chance to shift perceptions of what “nature” really means, and find new, hyper-local ways to appreciate it.

“If just a few people find some joy or solace from getting up close with a pollinator out the window or a weed in the sidewalk, and learning what it is and how it works, the City Nature Challenge is still going to be a success,” said Lila Higgins, the citizen science manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. (Disclosure: I used to work there.) Higgins and Alison Young, who works on citizen science at the California Academy of the Sciences in San Francisco, founded the event in 2016. Both plan to encourage participants in their cities to go outside if they can, but to practice safe social distancing while they’re at it. If they can’t, there’s always whatever is flying or growing outside the ∂rwindow.

The plan for continuing the Challenge came out of extensive deliberation. It became clear through talks with dozens of science educators around the world, including those quarantined in China, that while the focus would have to shift, it was important that the event still go on. “Now it’s really all about the healing power of nature,” Higgins said.

Indeed, at a time when the mental health effects of mass isolation and anxiety over a rising death toll is still unmeasured and unknown, experts say it’s more important than ever to get up close with nature in whatever way possible. Volumes of scientific research have proven that woods and wildlife offer myriad mental and physical health benefits to human beings. Vitamin D from the sunshine boosts immune systems and bone health. Immersion in greenery — also know as “forest bathing” — has been linked to reduced stress, healthier heart rates and blood pressure, and lower risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Interacting with the natural world, whether on a walk through some trees or gardening in the backyard, is shown to ease anxiety and depression and foster a sense of well-being. Watching birds and listening to bird song can help filter away stress. An after-dinner stroll can even help digestion.

And though the “great outdoors” may be more distant than ever right now, small and mediated exposure to nature can still give us a lift, said Jon Christensen, a professor of environmental studies at the University of California at Los Angeles. Even photos of tree-lined mountains and wildlife documentaries can yield a health payoff; so can sitting in a park for 20 minutes. “There does seem to be a dose-response curve,” he said.

Around the world, people stuck at home are now finding ways to connect with flora and fauna in more intimate settings. In U.S. cities, World War II-era “victory gardens” have made a comeback amid coronavirus, thanks to the meditative (and supermarket-avoidance) benefits of planting tomatoes and lettuce at home. A similar run on backyard chickens has been reported. Other nature seekers are getting their fix online. On, a website that hosts streaming footage from cameras pointed at hundreds of natural habitats and landscapes around the globe, traffic from desktop computers has doubled since mid-March, and viewership from its iPhone app has grown threefold. (The Northern Lights, which are visible right now, are especially popular.)

The audience spike suggests that more younger people are tuning in while they’re cooped up at home, said Charles Annenberg Weingarten, the L.A. philanthropist who founded the site. “I anticipate that when this ends, people will go back out into the world and we might not be as popular,” he said. “But I hope they’ll appreciate their natural environment more.”

In many urban areas, street space is the most readily accessible outdoor resource. A growing handful of U.S. cities, including Portland, Philadelphia, and New York City, are limiting vehicle traffic on certain corridors to create more room for walking, cycling, and outdoor play. Eugenia South, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in the effects of community context on health and safety, is a proponent of street closures as an antidote to dangerous overcrowding in parks. Even the trees that line neighborhood blocks and thoroughfares can be good for mental health, she said. “You’re still getting outside and getting that dose of nature.”

Still, South said, limiting access to nature is one of many ways that coronavirus is heightening existing social disparities. Lower-income people are less likely to have yards, neighborhood parks within walking distance, or tree-lined streets to enjoy; that puts them at a deeper disadvantage in cities under lockdown.

South and others hope that the crisis can shake policymakers into doing more to bridge those gaps in green space, and into doing more to protect the fragile balance of their ecosystems in the future. Scientists find that a diversity of species in nature is essential for the health of the air, water and soil on which all of life depends. There’s even evidence that biodiversity — something that the planet is losing every day — can reduce the chances for the spread of infectious disease.

In that sense, nature may hold another lesson about surviving coronavirus, said Leong: Treat plants and animals with more respect. Using eyes, ears, nose or a camera to observe a living thing is a more peaceful interaction than catching or harming its habitat.

“We still don’t know the full connection between animals and plants and virus and us,” said Leong. “But we do know from ecology that if you break down one part of a system, it will collapse.”

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