By Jad Daley, Director of Program Development at The Trust for Public Land
The premise of the “Park Prescription Day” movement is that the city park down your street might hold the key to your health and our national well-being — providing a critical day-to-day complement to our majestic but remote public spaces.
That is because these local city parks, usually developed and managed by cities and counties but sometimes by state and federal agencies like the National Park Service, offer the most widespread opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation that can help address public health issues like obesity. These data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show how urgent it is for people to become more physically active, particularly for some segments of the population.
The Trust for Public Land, believes everyone in cities should live within one half-mile, about a 10-minute walk, of a park. Our ParkScore analysis shows which of our largest cities in the U.S. are meeting this standard, and which are not.
But not all parks are equally effective in promoting public health — park design can play a critical role in how parks are used. After all, a square of grass with park benches and a few trees is not an engine for active recreation. But the inclusion of outdoor exercise equipment, like FitnessZones, can turn that same small park into a much more valuable site for high-energy recreation.
Other park features can have an impact on sports from soccer to running. Put a small playing field surrounded by a running track into an urban schoolyard, and suddenly you have a site for after-school programs.
Linear parks are perhaps the most important of all for public health because they provide critical safe routes for bike commuters, runners, and others who need long, uninterrupted stretches for their desired form of recreation or transport.
Cities investing in safe routes will be critical for public health because the demand is high, and not just from the millennial bike commuters and avid city marathoners who get much of the media attention. As detailed in this study, low income communities have the highest rate of bike travel for transport. Yet, another study shows the shortfalls in sidewalks and other safe routes is worst in low-income communities, putting these users at greatest risk.
Given this remarkable opportunity for parks of all shapes and sizes to lead the way to greater public health, Park Prescription Day is a great reminder to see and utilize these opportunities right in our backyards. Taking the extra step to actually prescribe park visits and recreation as a health solution helps make this link between parks and health even more direct.