Meeting of the Minds: 5 Ways for Cities to Make Parks More Health Friendly

InsightaaS: Meeting of the Minds describes itself as “an urban knowledge sharing platform” focused on “the innovators and initiatives at the bleeding edge of urban sustainability and connected technology.” InsightaaS and its principals have a longstanding association with Meeting of the Minds; we act as media sponsors for its events, and monitor its blog for new insights into sustainability.

The site has a great deal of content relevant to readers interested in sustainable development (see, for example, “How São Paulo uses “value capture” to raise billions for infrastructure”). Given that we are just entering the gentle part of the summer, we opted to highlight a piece on how parks do – and can – provide for improved citizen health. Author Jeff Caldwell discusses how regular maintenance, park designs that accommodate social gatherings, dedicated dog parks, exercise equipment and support for environmental awareness boost the value of public spaces. Why not take a Sunday walk through a nearby park, and see how many of these five keys you see in your local environment? 

In the classic computer game Civilization, there were a number of strategies for improving the health and happiness of those under your charge. Adding new parks was one of the most effective – few improvements could boost your popularity ratings faster.

Of course, it was just a game. And the original creators had little to no experience in urban planning. However, recent academic research suggests that the game’s creators were on to something big. Public parks not only make people happier – they also help:

  • Reduce aggression and mental fatigue. According to the Journal of Environmental Psychology, “park-like” surroundings can actually boost feelings of well-being and calm – especially when these green spaces are adjacent to residential neighborhoods.
  • Reduce violent crime. Contrary to popular belief, parks are not a breeding ground for criminal behavior – they’re a proven and cost-effective impediment to illegal activity. In fact, scientists at the University of Illinois discovered that adding more green spaces to urban environments can help reduce crime by as much as 50 percent.
  • Increase social cohesion. Well-maintained parks can act as natural gathering places where community stakeholders form stronger social bonds. These ties have been shown to produce safer, healthier neighborhoods.

The mere existence of a public park confers all of these advantages. But by implementing the five strategies below, you can dramatically boost the health-related benefits of your urban planning efforts.

1. Careful Park Maintenance Is Essential

Regular maintenance and landscaping are critical components for success…

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