When I discovered that over 200 parks exist in Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County, I was astonished, and after two years here I still find it incredible just how much there is to explore. I’m lucky enough to work at the Parks Foundation, where my lunch break consists of a walk through Idlewild Park. On weekends, I can sneak off into the wilderness with my dog and find some serenity. At any point in the day, I can look outside and see endless hillsides sweeping with sagebrush and follow my gaze up the transition zone into the mountains filled with Jeffrey and Ponderosa pine trees.
Parks and open space matter to me because the vast expanse of the natural world heals me when I’m feeling down. I need to be reminded that I am small when compared to the trillions of intricacies that make up the natural world. If a giant sequoia can stand strong for 3,200 years, then I can endure any adversity.
Lake Basin Recreation Area, CA
Beyond my personal reasons, parks and open space matter because of the major benefits they provide the public health sector, the economy, the environment, and our communities. Let’s explore some of these advantages!
Public Health Benefits:
Hate going to the gym? Me too! People are actually more likely to exercise if they have access to parks and other safe outdoor spaces; therefore decreasing their annual healthcare costs, and the risk of serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes (1). Exercise also reduces symptoms of mental disorders and conditions, including anxiety, depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s (2,3). One of my favorite examples of this is a 1984 study conducted in a Pennsylvania hospital that showed patients with a window view of a local city park had a considerably higher rate of recuperation than those with a view of the back of a building (4). Humans are meant to interact with nature!
I moved to Reno for an AmeriCorps VISTA position in 2017. Part of the reason I chose Reno is because of the surrounding environment. I’m not the only one with that sentiment. Parks attract business and residents, leverage investment, create jobs, and lower infrastructure costs through green infrastructure (5). According to the National Parks and Recreation Association, in 2015, Nevada generated $1.4 billion in revenues from parks and recreation and over 11,000 jobs were supported by parks and recreation (4). Businesses and corporations frequently cite access to parks as a reason to relocate their operations. For residents, homes near parks or trails have 5–20% higher property values than those in the surrounding community (6).
IMPLAN and the Center for Regional Analysis–George Mason University for NPRA
Besides the intrinsic value of preserving natural spaces, the presence of parks also improves the environment. Parks and open space establish habitat corridors for wildlife, promote healthy ecosystems, clean the air, and prevent the heat island effect in cities. Green spaces also filter rain, reduce water pollution, protect drinking water, and decrease rates of waterborne illness through stormwater management (7).
No matter your age, gender identity, socio-economic status, ability, or ethnic background, you can use a park. Parks bring people together! Recent studies show that there is less crime in residential areas close to parks, in part because these spaces are frequent gathering places for community members (8). Additionally, parks and open spaces influence ”green” behavior. If you frequent the same park every day, you probably don’t want to see litter take over the area. Communities come together to steward these areas and take pride in their preservation. Additionally, for small children, playing is learning, and what better way to play than in a park? Play helps children develop muscle strength and coordination, language, cognitive thinking, and reasoning abilities (9).
These advantages are by no means an exhaustive list. There are thousands of peer-reviewed studies that detail various sectors our parks and open spaces impact, furthering illustrating why parks matter.
If you’re reading this, I’d hope that parks and open space matter to you. Whatever the reason is, hold it close to you. Take that passion and turn into to progress. Share your reasons with friends and family; tell your representatives that you want sustainable funding for your parks and open spaces; donate to local organizations that advocate for these spaces, like the Parks Foundation; and find worthwhile volunteer opportunities that steward your outdoor spaces.
Mount Tallac, El Dorado County CA
I cited many studies listed in the following United States Forest Service Research Summary Urban Nature for Human Health and Well-Being.
(1) Bedimo-Rung, Ariane L. et al. October 2004. The Significance of Parks to Physical Activity and Public Health. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 28, Issue 2, 159 - 168.
(2) Berman, M.G.; Kross, E.; Krpan, K.M. [and others]. 2012. Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders. 140(3): 300–305.
(3) Chalfont, G.E.; Rodiek, S. 2005. Building edge: an ecological approach to research and design of environments for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Care Today. 6(4): 341.
(4) Ulrich, R.S. 1984. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 224(4647): 420–421.
(5) NRPA and the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. 2018. The Economic Impact of Parks.
Philadelphia, Green City, Clean Waters: Philadelphia’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure Solution.
(6) Correll M, Lillydahl J and Singell L. May 1978. The Effect of Green Belts on Residential Property Values: Some Findings on the Political Economy of Open Space. Land Economics, 54(2): 207–217.
(7) Nowak, D.J.; Hirabayashi, S.; Bodine, A.; Greenfield, E. 2014. Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States. Environmental Pollution. 193: 119–129.
(8) Kuo F., Sullivan W. May 2001. Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime? Environment and Behavior. Volume 33, Issue 3. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916501333002.
(9) Milteer R., Ginsburg K., Council on Communications and Media Committee Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Mulligan D. Jan 2012. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty. Pediatrics, 129 (1) e204-e213; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2953.