Green space & parks

Communities can increase green space and parks by creating new parks or open spaces, renovating or enhancing under-used recreation areas, or rehabilitating vacant lots, abandoned infrastructure, or brownfields. Rails to trails programs, brownfield redevelopment, community gardens, and park enhancements are examples of efforts to increase recreational green space, trails, and parks. Such efforts can be applied to spaces accessible by foot, bike, and other types of transportation, and are frequently implemented in low income neighborhoods.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased physical activity

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Improved mental health

  • Reduced crime

  • Reduced stress

  • Improved birth outcomes

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that increasing green space and parks increases physical activity (Ding 2011*, Blanck 2012*, TRB 2005, CDC MMWR-Khan 2009, Cohen 2012, Bassett 2013*, AHA-Mozaffarian 2012Hunter 2015*), especially among children and adolescents (Wolch 2011*, Cohen 2006, Almanza 2012). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Living in close proximity to green space and parks has been shown to lower childhood obesity rates, with larger effects for boys than girls (Wolch 2011*), and to increase physical activity among both boys and girls (Cohen 2006, Ding 2011*). Children’s moderate to vigorous activity levels appear to be greater outdoors than indoors (Dunton 2011). Access to green space may also increase physical activity levels for adults (Blanck 2012*, TRB 2005, Tzoulas 2007*).

Enhancing parks with outdoor exercise equipment can increase physical activity levels and new park users, and appears to be a cost-effective approach in densely populated areas with limited exercise facilities (Cohen 2012). Increasing green space and parks in conjunction with physical activity progams (Hunter 2015*) and efforts to address potential safety and security concerns in surrounding communities may be more effective at increasing physical activity levels than increasing green space alone (TRB 2005).

Increasing green space, parks, and trails can have additional environmental and social benefits for communities (Sallis 2015). In some circumstances, proximity to green spaces has been shown to reduce socio-economic disparities, and has been associated with lower stress (Mitchell 2008*, Tzoulas 2007*, Shores 2008*, Nielsen 2007*), improved ADHD symptoms and mental health (Sallis 2015), and reductions in domestic violence and other crimes (UN IL-LHHL). In an Israel-based study, proximity to green space has been associated with increased birthweight and reduced risk of low birthweight, especially for low income mothers (Agay-Shay 2014*). Living in neighborhoods with a high density of trees is also associated with improved health perceptions and health outcomes (Kardan 2015).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

Several states have taken action to increase green space and parks by supporting new recreational trails, as in Illinois, Minnesota, and Virginia. The Mississippi state legislature authorized the city of Pascagoula to use food tax revenue to implement a comprehensive parks and recreation master plan (NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014). Brownfields redevelopment (US EPA-Brownfields), community gardens (ACGA), and Rails to Trails programs are implemented to some degree in all 50 states (RTC).

Implementation Resources

ALBD - Active Living by Design (ALBD). Increasing physical activity and healthy eating through community design.

NCPPA - National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA). About resources & reports.

LHC-Toolkit 2009 - Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). Action strategies toolkit: A guide for local and state leaders working to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2009.

TPL-Harnik 2011 - Harnik P, Welle B. From fitness zones to the medical mile: How urban park systems can best promote health and wellness. Washington, DC: Center for City Park Excellence (CCPE), Trust for Public Land (TPL); 2011.

PFP-Physical activity - Partnership for Prevention (PFP). Places for physical activity: Facilitating development of a community trail and promoting its use to increase physical activity among youth and adults: An action guide. Washington, DC: Partnership for Prevention (PFP); 2008.

ChangeLab-Parks 2015 - ChangeLab Solutions. Complete parks playbook: The seven elements of a safe, connected, and healthy parks system. 2015.

HealthPartners-CHA - HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research. Community health advisor (CHA): Resource for information on the benefits of evidence-based policies and programs: Helping communities understand, analyze, and model costs.

CDC DNPAO-Data - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps online tool.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

CDC-Park HIA toolkit - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Healthy places: Parks and trails health impact assessment (HIA) toolkit.

PolicyLink-Brownfields 2003 - PolicyLink: Equitable development toolkit: Brownfields. 2003.

PAS-Zoning 2016 - Planning Advisory Service (PAS). Planning & zoning for health in the built environment. American Planning Association (APA); 2016.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Ding 2011* - Ding D, Sallis JF, Kerr J, Lee S, Rosenberg DE. Neighborhood environment and physical activity among youth: A review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2011;41(4):442-55.

Blanck 2012* - Blanck HM, Allen D, Bashir Z, et al. Let's go to the park today: the role of parks in obesity prevention and improving the public's health. Childhood Obesity. 2012;8(5):423-8.

TRB 2005 - Committee on Physical Activity, Health, Transportation, and Land Use. Does the built environment influence physical activity? Examining the evidence. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board (TRB), Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Academy of Sciences; 2005: TRB Special Report 282.

CDC MMWR-Khan 2009 - Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2009;58(RR-07):1-26.

Cohen 2012 - Cohen DA, Marsh T, Williamson S, Golinelli D, McKenzie TL. Impact and cost-effectiveness of family fitness zones: A natural experiment in urban public parks. Health & Place. 2012;18(1):39–45.

Bassett 2013* - Bassett DR, Fitzhugh EC, Heath GW, et al. Estimated energy expenditures for school-based policies and active living. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;44(2):108-13.

AHA-Mozaffarian 2012 - Mozaffarian D, Afshin A, Benowitz NL, et al. Population approaches to improve diet, physical activity, and smoking habits: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). Circulation. 2012;126(12):1514–63.

Hunter 2015* - Hunter RF, Christian H, Veitch J, et al. The impact of interventions to promote physical activity in urban green space: A systematic review and recommendations for future research. Social Science & Medicine. 2015;124:246-256.

Wolch 2011* - Wolch J, Jerrett M, Reynolds K, et al. Childhood obesity and proximity to urban parks and recreational resources: A longitudinal cohort study. Health & Place. 2011;17(1):207-14.

Cohen 2006 - Cohen DA, Ashwood JS, Scott MM, et al. Public parks and physical activity among adolescent girls. Pediatrics. 2006;118(5):e1381-9.

Almanza 2012 - Almanza E, Jerrett M, Dunton G, Seto E, Pentz MA. A study of community design, greenness, and physical activity in children using satellite, GPS and accelerometer data. Health & Place. 2012;18(1):46–54.

Dunton 2011 - Dunton GF, Liao Y, Intille S, Wolch J, Pentz MA. Physical and social contextual influences on children’s leisure-time physical activity: An ecological momentary assessment study. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2011;8(Suppl 1):103–8.

Tzoulas 2007* - Tzoulas K, Kalevi K, Venn S, et al. Promoting ecosystem and human health in urban areas using Green Infrastructure: A literature review. Landscape and Urban Planning. 2007;81(3):167-78.

Sallis 2015 - Sallis JF, Spoon C, Cavill N, et al. Co-benefits of designing communities for active living: An exploration of literature. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2015;12(1):1–10.

Mitchell 2008* - Mitchell R, Popham F. Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: An observational population study. Lancet. 2008;372(9650);1655-60.

Shores 2008* - Shores KA, West ST. The relationship between built park environments and physical activity in four park locations. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 2008;14(3):e9-16.

Nielsen 2007* - Nielsen TS, Hansen KB. Do green areas affect health? Results from a Danish survey on the use of green areas and health indicators. Health & Place. 2007;13(4):839-50.

UN IL-LHHL - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UN IL). Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (LHHL).

Agay-Shay 2014* - Agay-Shay K, Peled A, Crespo AV, et al. Green spaces and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2014:1-8.

Kardan 2015 - Kardan O, Gozdyra P, Misic B, et al. Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center. Scientific Reports. 2015;5(11610):1-14.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014 - Winterfeld A. State actions to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in schools and communities: Summary and analysis of trends in legislation. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL); 2014.

US EPA-Brownfields - US Environmental Protections Agency (US EPA). State brownfields programs.

ACGA - American Community Gardening Association (ACGA). Locate your nearest community garden.

RTC - Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). Inspiring movement.

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