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Mental health in smart cities: the role of technology during COVID-19 pandemic

Giannis Chrysostomou

Abstract:Introduction. Covid-19 outbreak has changed human life and activity [1], Especially In urban areas forcing citizens to stay for large periods of time in lockdowns. Protective measures (social distancing and isolation) that have been globally implemented has caused the isolation of millions. Preliminary findings (Moreno et al, 2021) suggest adverse mental health effects in previously healthy people and especially in people with pre-existing mental health disorders. Extended lockdowns come at the expense of mental health, psycho-physical conditions, wellbeing, and social relations within societies (Campion et al., 2020). Before COVID-19 outbreak, city centers offered a high-quality life with a wide range of services, utilities, public and green spaces, as well as city parks (Sharifi & Khavarian-Garmsird, 2020). Living in a small apartment with a minimal private space in the city center was balanced by the high level of socialization in public spaces, outdoor activities and events, intense interactions among inhabitants, allowing them to maintain relations (Portegijs et al., 2021). With COVID-19 outbreak, this modern urban standard of living was challenged. Social distancing took place at several levels: at home and at work, and, in the city, in the street and on public transport. Everything created for urban life changed and became uncertain. Societies got used to sharing common spaces, often crowded, and everyone was cut off from everyday socialisation. The isolation forced millions of individuals and families to remain at home, causing them to change their routines, rituals, and habits (McCay, 2020). In dense urban areas, this mostly meant locking people in cramped apartments, cut off from everyday physical activity outside the home (Portegijs et al, 2021; Bil et al, 2021). Smart cities are instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent urban areas (Harrison et al., 2010) that pursue shared growth through an integrated set of technologies that shape interactions between actors (Nam & Pardo, 2011). A smart city can be defined as complex set of technology (infrastructures of hardware and software), people (creativity, diversity, and education), and institutions (governance and policy) (Nam & Pardo, 2011). Smart cities aim is to create an environment that drives innovation from a technological, managerial, and organizational point of view by fostering environmental and social wellbeing (Karvonen et al., 2018; Polese et al., 2021]. The aim of this study is the literature review of the role of technology for citizens mental health during Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns in Smart Cities and to investigate if there is a relation between digital tools provided to the citizens of Pafos Municipality to use during quarantine, and their mental health status. Methodology\design\approach. A review of the literature and an additional critical review were conducted in the fields of smart cities and mental health with a focus on the latest research concerning COVID-19 influence on ICT, mental health and wellbeing. For the purposes of this article, a thorough database search has been made. The database used was mostly Google Scholar and Science Direct. Selection criteria included full-text publications and consisted of the following keywords: COVID-19, post-COVID-19, mental health, wellbeing, lockdown, isolation, anxiety, infection rates, density, smart city, digital technology, ICT and Virtual Reality. Author focused on qualitative research available until April 2022. Further than this, field research was conducted through a qualitative method in the particular case of Paphos Municipality in Cyprus, the introduction of various ICT technology solutions during the pandemic lockdowns and their impact on citizens mental health. ICT tools were briefly analyzed and their contributions towards citizens mental health was evaluated based on questionnaires distributed to the citizens before and after the use of these tools. Now the key question that needs an answer is “Did smart cities impact on citizens mental health during the pandemic?” During the pandemic, Pafos Municipality introduced to its citizens various ICT solutions that despite initially they were targeting foreign tourists visiting the district, they ended up as entertainment tools that ease the lockdown period during the quarantine phase. As part of the E.U. co-funded by European Union program “Smart Cities – Interreg: Greece – Cyprus” the municipality implemented the “Collection, Documentation and Digitization of Cultural and Tourist material, Development of Digital Tourism / Culture and Entrepreneurship Platform and Development of digital applications of e-democracy and participation in the Municipality of Pafos” project. The result of this project was the creation of 3 websites: 1. Explore Pafos https://www.explorepafos.org/ with multimedia information (text, photos, videos, 360-pictures, interactive map with points of interest etc.) about the province's major points of interest sorted by category: Culture, Environment, Tourism and Services. 2. Historical Timeline https://xronologio.explorepafos.org/ with information about the history of the city in a chronological order. 3. Electronic Participation https://diavouleusi.explorepafos.org/ offering User Registration, Consultation, Online Citizens Community (forum), Civil Council Decisions, Online Polls, News and Announcements. Further than these 2 mobile applications for iOS and Android devices were developed, Explore Pafos with various important information about the city of Pafos and Pafos AR which contain Augmented Reality representation of various significant cultural and historical sightseeing in the district. The websites and mobile applications were available in 5 languages (Greek, English, Russian, Hebrew and German). These platforms were presented to the citizens of Pafos Municipality on the...
Keywords: quality life / Introduction / pandemic / mental health / implemented / lockdowns / urban areas / Pafos Municipality / citizens of Pafos

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