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By protecting urban green spaces and parks, cities can directly reduce their stormwater management costs. According to a study by Dr. Jade Freeman and a team of top scientific experts, “The less forest in a source water drainage area, the higher water treatment costs (Freeman, et al., 2008).” An extensive statistical analysis was performed to determine the impact that increased urban forest cover has on water quality within areas served by drinking water treatment plants. Data was analyzed from 40-60 different drinking water treatment plants across the nation in 2004 and 2006, taking into account differing land cover ratios. It was discovered that the “water quality index seemed to be positively correlated with forest cover within 100ft (Freeman, et al., 2008).” This study draws the conclusion that water quality is positively correlated with forested land cover, thus, an increase in urban forests and parkland likely leads to positive gains in water quality. Increases in water quality from urban forests will decrease stormwater treatment costs for the local communities. Furthermore, an increase in green space and parkland will help reduce costs from traditional stormwater infrastructure because of the added ecological services.
Improved Air Quality As demonstrated in the previous section on water quality; trees, shrubs, and grasses located in urban areas play a very important part for any community. A study by David Nowak and Gordan Heisler revealed the vital role that parks and urban trees play in air quality. Nowak and Heisler found that urban trees and green spaces have the ability to reduce air temperature, air pollution, ultra violet radiation, in addition to carbon dioxide.
Cities across the world suffer from higher temperatures than their rural counterparts because of a phenomena referred to as the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect (see Figure 7.1). The UHI effect happens in cities because of an increase in short wave radiation linked to higher levels of impervious surfaces. “Heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality (Environmental Protection Agency, 2008).” The trees, shrubs, and grasses found in parks and other urban green spaces can have a positive impact on reducing some of the effects from urban heat islands by having a cooling influence in parks, and to some extent, surrounding neighborhoods.
Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 Several studies show that there is a distinct connection between reduced air temperatures and the prevelance of green spaces. In Baltimore, “Patapsco Valley Park, which is heavily forested with 68% tree cover, was 13°F (7.1°C) cooler in the evening and about 5°F (2.7°C) cooler in daytime relative to the warm inner city (Nowak & Heisler, 2010).” These results were duplicated for multiple parks within Baltimore, and also within similar studies for other cities. Generally speaking, parks and urban green spaces have a cooling effect depending on acreage, type of vegetation, and quality of vegetation. Trees play an especially important role because they “evaporate significant amounts of water through their leaves (transpiration), which can significantly reduce local air temperatures (Nowak & Heisler, 2010).” Furthermore, urban park trees have the ability to reduce human exposure to ultra violet radiation (UV rays) by providing shady spots to walk, picnic, read, or play.
In addition to curbing the UHI effect, urban trees and parklands can have a measurable impact on reducing air pollution. “The Royal Parks of London were referred to as the “lungs of London” by several people in the early 1800s, and later Central Park in New York City was referred to as the “lungs of the city” by Fredrick Law Olmsted (Nowak & Heisler, 2010).” This turn of phrase can be very useful for visualizing how parks can reduce air pollution through absorbtion of ozone, sulfer dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
Figure 7.1 Urban Heat Island Effect
Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 “Trees and vegetation in parks can help reduce carbon dioxide (a dominant greenhouse gas) by directly removing and storing carbon dioxide and indirectly by reducing air temperature and building energy use in and near parks. Park vegetation can increase carbon dioxide by either directly emitting carbon dioxide from the vegetation (e.g., decomposition) or indirectly through emissions from vegetation maintenance practices.“(Nowak, et al., 2010). Carbon storage and annual removal by urban park
trees and soils in the United States is estimated at about:
• Carbon storage (trees): 75 million tons ($1.6 billion)
• Carbon storage (soils): 102 million tons of carbon ($2.1 billion)
• Annual carbon removal (trees): 2.4 million tons ($50 million)
Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 There are a number of smaller regional plans and initiatives in place to support green infrastructure, parks, and municipal urban forests, like that seen in the GalvestonHouston Area. At the state level the TFS supports urban forests, while TPWD supports the public places for our urban forests through the State Park program, in addition to giving local park grants to municipalities through the Recreation Grants Branch, and by supporting education and outreach efforts in communities all across Texas. These interagency state partnerships are vital to supporting a strong statewide effort to promote parkland and green spaces.
Mental Health Benefits In order to present a concise picture on the primary mental health benefits associated with outdoor space, a special emphasis will be placed upon the effects of outdoor parks on self-esteem, impulse control, resilience to stress, and ability to reduce stress. While the value gained by a walk in a park can be both intangible and obvious to most, there are other variables that do offer themselves for empirical study.
Self-esteem is an important facet to an individual’s sense of well-being, especially for children. In one Meta study, several individuals began a program to spend more time exercising in a park or wooded area and, as a result, reported a dramatic increase in self-esteem in the short term and noticeably in the long term. Furthermore, while individuals from all ages showed improvements, the largest gain in self-esteem happened with children, regardless of gender (Barton, 2010). A community could easily implement similar outdoor activities if they have access to outdoor recreational space.
Lastly, nature has been found to have a therapeutic affect © TPWD especially when buffering against unwanted emotions, such as depression and stress. In one study of children, two populations were questioned, focusing on indicators of self-worth, reaction to stress, and depression. One of the populations was in an area with many easily accessed gateways to nature, through parks and other green spaces, while the other population had little or no green outdoor spaces. It was shown that those children in areas with Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 plenty of accessible green space could handle the challenges of life easier, with lower cases of depression and healthy reactions to stress (Wells, 2003).
It has been shown that outdoor areas with high vegetation around an individual’s home and access to parks are beneficial to everyone, especially our young. Parks and green spaces help buffer the ill outcomes associated with stress and depression, increase self-discipline and performance in school, and increase self-worth and feelings of social support. Providing parks and outdoor recreation is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to improve the morale and positive emotional states of individuals within a community, in addition to the community as a whole.
Physical Health Benefits Many physiological health benefits corresponding with green environments have been studied as well. These health benefits can be easily seen in immune system functioning, overall improved health, and can even help expedite recovery from injuries or surgery.
Furthermore, clear indications of cognitive improvement can be shown to be associated with time spent in green outdoor settings.
By having access to and spending time in green outdoor settings, individuals are more likely to experience good health outcomes and a reduction in negative outcomes associated with risky exposures. The correlation between exposure to natural green environments and positive increases in physiological health is easily shown with observational study.
In one study conducted in six urban Montreal neighborhoods, and 28 associated parks and outdoor spaces, health outcomes were compared with location. Those who were located in poor health regions had an obvious deprivation of resources from lack of any outdoor area in which to exercise, lack of parks for recreation, and an over-abundance of industrial sites and urban clutter, such as multi-lane roads. Furthermore, men who lived in the areas with increased outdoor and “Children should be having fun and recreational space had a longer life expectancy playing in environments that than others (Coen, 2006). The study suggests that provide parks, recreational adding parks and outdoor spaces to areas with facilities, community centers, and poor health outcomes can help reduce and combat illness.
walking and bike paths.” (Benjamin, Dr. Regina, U.S.
Time spent in green spaces, or spent viewing Surgeon General, 2010) green spaces from a window have been shown to bolster immune system function, and are especially helpful in maintaining resilience during times of great stress. An individual’s anxiety level can play a large role in health outcomes before and after surgery. It has been shown that having access to green areas, be it a small park or garden, reduces anxiety before surgery and reduces stress after surgery. This leads to a decreased recovery time, which translates to less costs associate with extended hospital stays and a better recovery outlook (Marcus, 1999).
Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 The cognitive function benefits of being outdoors in parks, gardens, or recreational areas are fairly well understood. In one study looking at elderly and memory showed that those who rested in a garden, versus resting indoors, led to increased scores in concentration testing and recall ability. Those who rested indoors had no such cognitive improvement (Kuo F. E., 2010). As this result was seen with only one brief exposure to the outdoor garden, imagine how extended lifelong exposures could lead to even greater results.
Lastly, when looking at large populations and comparing areas with high vegetation density to areas with low vegetation density, experts can find a strong correlation between chronic mental health disorders and low access to green spaces. In a crosssectional study an area that contained significant urban sprawl and relatively no accessible parks or outdoor spaces was examined. These areas suffered from 96 more chronic medical conditions per 1,000 residents, which is the same result one would expect if the entire population were to age by 4 years. Suburban design clearly plays a role in health outcomes (Sturm, 2004).
Obesity and Preventable Diseases Obesity is one of the most challenging health issues the country has ever faced. Twothirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and adolescents are considered obese or overweight (Trust for America's Health, 2011).This is not good news, as studies have shown that 50%-80% of overweight children remain overweight as adults (Interagency Obesity Council, 2011). According to a recent Gallop-Healthways Well-Being Index, Texas has two of the top ten fattest cities in America – Beaumont-Port Arthur at #5 and Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 McAllen-Edinburg-Mission at #1. (America’s Fattest Cities, 2012) Texas is near the top in terms of the most obese and overweight states, ranking in at 12th in 2011, putting Texans at increased risk for more than 20 major diseases (Trust for America's Health, 2011) The graph below (Figure 7.2) shows the quick pace in which we have become a population with more obese and overweight individuals. While the overweight category has remained somewhat stagnant, the obesity trends demonstrate an upward development that has not shown any signs of slowing. The trend clearly demonstrates an increase in obesity and a decrease in physically fit individuals.
Overweight and Obesity (BMI) in Texas 1995-2010:
Weight Classification by Body Mass Index (BMI) Obesity is associated with a greater risk to a myriad of life-changing and life-ending diseases, such as Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), cancer, and diabetes. Perhaps the most widely acknowledged poor health outcome associated with a sedentary lifestyle and obesity is Type 2 Diabetes. Weight and inactivity are considered the top two risk factors associated with this serious and expensive disease. It is critical that we help manage the weight of the population, especially for our youth, as we are now seeing Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 more cases of Type 2 Diabetes in very young populations, a group that traditionally almost never acquired it. In Figure 7.3 we see the significant difference between obese and non-obese people with diabetes.
Note: Includes Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Source: Texas Department of State Health Services.
In addition to the decrease in health and quality of life for individuals, the cost of obesity is also hitting Texas employers. According to the Texas Comptroller’s office, obesity cost Texas businesses $9.5 billion in 2009 with a projected cost of $32.5 billion by 2030 if current trends continue (See Figure 7.4).
Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.