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«Recreation Plan Recreation Grants Branch State Parks Division 4200 Smith School Road • Austin, Texas 78744 © 2012 TPWD. PWD ...»

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As educated health professionals will claim, there are many things one can do in order to prevent or reduce mortality and ill health outcomes from diseases associated with obesity. The two most prevalent solutions include living an active lifestyle and making healthy eating choices.

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In order to address nutrition and obesity prevention, the 2007 Texas Legislature codified the Interagency Obesity Council (IOC) made up of the following state agencies; Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Texas Education Agency. (TEA) Together these entities have implemented several initiatives to combat the obesity epidemic. One such initiative is the Growing Community Communications Campaign helping to educate and inspire local communities into action. The campaign introduces community residents, stakeholders and public health professionals on how community-based changes make a difference through increasing access and availability to healthier food and physical activity options. One way this is Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 done is through a video series highlighting local communities that are implementing these changes.

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Community Benefits There are a number of well-documented community benefits that are gained through the presence of parks and recreation facilities. In recent years numerous studies connect the importance of mental and physical well-being with access to parks and public green space. In addition to the positive effects on the individual, the larger, overarching community benefits include increased social ties and other evidence of positive social functioning, such as acts of kindness and neighborly caring. According to Frances Kuo, “vegetation is associated with better social behavior across the board…More green translates to less aggression, less transgression, more socialization, and more acts of caring (Kuo F. E., 2010).” Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 Social Functioning Social functioning is vital for a healthy community and parks can play an important role in fostering healthy social ties. Studies on the impact of green spaces, or lack thereof, on people are providing important considerations on planning for parks. “For the last 99.95% of the last two million years, our species has been on an extended camping trip, living in the wild and making our way by hunting and gathering; only in the last 10,000 years did we move into our first villages and develop agriculture (Kuo F. E., 2010).” This coupled with the population shift moving into urban areas has resulted in a rapid social evolution within a relatively short amount of time. Public health experts are only just discovering the multifaceted implications of living in increasingly urban environments.

Studies have consistently shown that animals living in unfit environments begin to experience physical, psychological, and social breakdowns, and these same symptoms are being seen in humans living in unfit environments. Since the 1970s, psychologists and other scientists have been studying complex neighborhood social ties or NSTs, and over the last few decades, scientists have found a significant connection between green space and positive social functioning.

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Access to parks offer support for social opportunities and spontaneous play, where parents and children can connect with other peer groups. Formal and informal outdoor recreation activities have the ability to create a sense of being connected to the larger community. Just the presence of vegetation has been proven to have a positive impact on the sense of belonging. “A Dutch study of more than 10,000 households in the Netherlands used aerial photographs of the percentage of vegetation within 1 km and Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 3km of each household’s address and used it to predict residents’ social integration and sense of being connected with others. The less green a person’s living environment is the more likely that person is to report feeling lonely and report not having adequate social support.” (Kuo F. E., 2010). These studies, along with several others, continually draw the conclusion that regardless of social status, income, age, and other demographic predictors, the level of ‘greenness’ corresponds to an increase in positive social ties and can lead to a more socially cohesive community.

Parks have the ability to bring people together, be it neighbors, festival goers, sports fans, or nature enthusiasts. Community building can occur through joint efforts for beautification, such as volunteer clean ups, and can reinforce a sense of pride and belonging. Indoor and outdoor recreation programs encourage social ties through organized programming. From community softball teams to nature workshops, parks offer a place for social cohesion. It has been shown that a strong community is one where individuals have a sense of mutual trust and understanding. Parks, green spaces, and other outdoor recreation opportunities offer a community the chance to play, relax, and get to know one another in a safe common place.

Crime Prevention

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Parks and recreation are especially important for reducing criminal activity in our youth population. “Safe parks and recreation centers topped the list when researchers asked adolescents what they wanted most during their non-school hours.” (Trust for Public Land, 1994). When those opportunities are not available, the instances of criminal acts increase. “Fifty-seven percent of all violent crimes by juveniles occur on school days, and 19% in the 4 hours between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., based on the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System data.” (California State Parks, 2005). This continues to be an important issue for Texas as 30% of the state’s population is under the age of 19.

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Data from the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) presents information on the ages of offenders and the cost associated with their incarceration.

“The cost for the assessment and orientation process for youth committed to the Texas Youth Commission is an additional expense that is only incurred during a youth’s initial 30 to 45-day stay at the Orientation and Assessment Units. All youth committed to TYC enter through the orientation and assessment units. The total cost per day for youth at the units is equal to the cost of assessment and orientation per day, plus the cost per day for a stay at a regular institution.

After youth are placed in their designated treatment facilities and are no longer receiving assessment and orientation services, the cost per youth per day decreases. The institutions cost per day reflected in this graph is an average. Specific costs can vary depending on the type of facility and whether youth are receiving specialized treatment. (Average Cost per Day per Youth, 2010).” These daily cost figures translate into significant annual expenses; the annual expenditures are as follows: TYC institutions - $131,247, contract facilities - $74,303, and halfway houses - $102,934. No matter the location, this is a huge expense to the Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 state and local governments. Therefore, “park and recreation departments should be part of a community-wide approach to implementing youth directed supports, opportunities, programs, and services.” (Witt & Caldwell, 2010).

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A study published in 1972 took a comparative look at census data, FBI crime statistics, and data from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, in addition to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The purpose was “to make a systematic inquiry into the public policy impact on crime-deterrence” (Cho, 1972) for 49 major cities in the U.S.

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The Alberta Recreation and Parks Association presented positive examples of crime deterring programs in their 2009 Parks Conference, Health by Nature: Up Close and Personal, Investing in Community Parks, Open Space and Nature Education.

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The City of Los Angeles has implemented an anti-gang initiative that involves keeping parks open for certain hours at night with extensive programming and free food. For 2011, the Summer Night Lights program has led to a reduction in Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 gang related homicides in areas surrounding these particular parks by 57%.

Furthermore, the number of shots fired have decreased by 55% and the number of victims shot decreased by 45%. The city has increased the number of parks involved in the program from 8 to 24 in a span of 3 years.” (NRPA, 2012)

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The success of this program lies in the partnerships created between TPWD and community organizations who have already established a relationship with these identified targeted audiences; namely, females, physically/mentally challenged individuals, ethnic minorities, low income communities, and youth populations. The COOP provides program funding, outdoor training, and other TPWD resources while building long term relationships with participants. This type of collaboration has the potential to introduce new users to the wonders and benefits of the outdoors, thus creating lifetime users and supporters.

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As the state’s primary outdoor recreation provider, TPWD recognized the importance of this rallying cry. In 2006, TPWD facilitated a collaboration of volunteers who developed outreach materials, recruited others to share in the message, and developed a recognition program called Green Ribbon Schools (www.greenribbonschools.org). In 2009, a bipartisan group of Texas legislators requested that TPWD, along with three other state agencies, create a public-private partnership and strategic plan.

In 2010, TPWD and other stakeholders, through Texas Children in Nature (TCiN), convened a diverse group of over 85 professionals in health, education, recreation, and the built environment to develop a Texas strategic plan to connect children and their families to nature by increasing opportunities across the state. In December 2010 the group held a statewide conference of over 300 professionals to launch the plan. Conference attendees also volunteered to work on action teams and regional collaboratives based on the plan.

Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 As a result of the strategic plan, today we have the following cooperative structure in

place:

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The body of this strategic plan and its findings are included in Appendix F. The Texas Children in Nature Strategic Plan identifies the following goals for promoting health,

education, access, and community:

Health A growing body of evidence points to the benefits of physical activity and play in nature to children’s physical and mental health and development. More research is needed, but we know enough to act. We envision healthier children and families as a result of increased time spent in nature and more outdoor physical activity.

• Utilize healthcare and related professionals to educate families about the benefits of nature to children’s physical health, emotional well-being, and cognitive functioning; the importance of nature and outdoor activities for healthy child development; and safety precautions.

• Encourage Texas-specific research to describe the causal relationship between nature and children’s health and development, including the therapeutic benefits of nature.

• As appropriate, encourage integration of nature opportunities as a health strategy in existing health and childcare guidelines.

• Promote health considerations in urban and community planning.

Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 Education Natural resource literacy is the ability to understand, analyze and address major natural resource opportunities and challenges. The goals to achieve natural resource literacy through education includes educating school administrators, educators and future educators; tracking students’ outcomes and experiences; integrating local informal resources; involving parents; and assessing these processes and outcomes. Our vision is that every child in Texas will be engaged in meaningful outdoor learning experiences and achieve natural resource literacy.

• Increase the understanding, appreciation and use of experiential learning outdoors within the formal education system.

• Develop quality outdoor classrooms, wildlife habitats and natural play areas on every Texas schoolyard.

• Develop integrated and collaborative partnerships between the formal education and informal systems and resources to benefit Texas youth.

• Assess the effectiveness of natural resource literacy education in Texas.

Access

Safety, convenience and multi-purpose design are essential to developing a connection with nature and a sense of place, the building blocks to conservation stewardship. We envision a Texas where children and their families have safe, convenient, sustainable, and desirable access to the outdoors, where they can develop respect and appreciation for the natural environment.

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Chapter 7 – The Value of Parks & Recreation in Well-Being Texas Outdoor Recreation Plan 2012 Community Connecting with nature must be relevant and welcoming to all, including unifying messages, partnerships and efforts that are respectful to Texas’s diverse peoples, cultures and economic needs. We envision that the message “Happier, Healthier, Smarter” Children in Nature is widely and mutually communicated and that communities inspire children to maintain a lifelong connection to nature.

• Raise awareness and action among adults and children through consistent and unified communication.



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