Boston is one of two cities in the country that provides all residents access to their local park within a 10-minute walk, and a new report details just how closely parks are tied to mental, physical and environmental health.
The report, conducted by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, ranks park systems in the 100 biggest U.S. cities based on five categories: access, equity, investment, amenities and acreage. It found that people who live in higher-ranking are less likely to suffer from poor mental health and a sedentary lifestyle.
Research shows that parks can deliver cardiovascular benefits, fight loneliness, promote environmental health and counter stress and anxiety. Dr. Howard Frumkin of Trust for Public Land went so far as to say that parks and green spaces have “public health superpowers.”
But when it comes to access to parks, the inequities are clear across the country.
“We do know that across all parks for cities in the United States, neighborhoods where most residents identify as a person of color have access to an average of 43% less park space than predominantly white neighborhoods,” Linda Hwang, senior director of strategy and innovation for the Trust for Public Land, told GBH’s All Things Considered. “We see a similar disparity when we’re looking at household income, so we love when great parks systems, like the Boston parks system, are doing everything they can and firing all these different cylinders that involve new people, new sectors of our communities with parks.”
Hwang that those results hold even after controlling for race, ethnicity, household income, age and population density.
She said the pandemic changed perceptions about what a park could be, as the open spaces were used for testing and vaccination centers, food distribution points, and a place where people could socialize in fresh air while maintaining a safe distance.
Three years later, park leaders are looking to maintain park popularity through partnerships with healthcare providers and community organizers, including programs like Girls on the Run, to create safe spaces for teenage girls to be active together.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of the full interview.