That's just the question we've been asking at the Parks Conservancy over the last few years as we learn more about the potential links between outdoor recreation opportunities and improved health. Beginning with the 2008 Urban Parks Conference, "Body and Soul: Parks and the Health of Great Cities," we've been spending more time focusing on how getting people into the parks may be beneficial to their health. It's what our Parks Are Free campaign is all about, and it's why this month we held a colloquium to explore ways to strengthen the connection between urban parks and physical activity.
Researchers and parks professionals convened at Columbia University in New York City for "Beyond Anecdotes: Building an Empirical Case for the Value of Urban Parks in Promoting Physical Activity and Community Health," presented by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in conjunction with Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. Topics covered included the social aspects of exercise, effects of altering the built environment on physical activity, and improved access to parks in historically underserved communities.
Examples from Pittsburgh included ongoing plans for a greenprint in the Hill District, which would improve the neighborhood's connection to its own green spaces and to the rest of the city. The Greenprint plan seeks to capitalize on the geography of the Hill while allowing the neighborhood to retain its unique identity. (Read more about this project here.)
The group raised many interesting questions and brainstormed about potential research partners and funders. Among some areas that will require further research:
- Can park projects and investments make a change in health status--if so, which projects and why?
- To what degree do park access and design affect physical activity?
- What is the proper vehicle for getting non-users into the parks?
- Do one-day volunteer environmental stewardship activities translate into other, longer-term uses of the park for physical activity?
- How can we redefine the uses of parks and get away from the active/passive distinction?
We've collected all the information from the colloquium, including PDFs of all the presenters' PowerPoint documents, on our website. A huge part of conducting any research related to parks and health is learning how people use the parks. Remember you can tell us all about how you use the parks at our feedback forum.