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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley

Parks: A vital community condition


Parks and green spaces serve as integral components of the fabric that comprises social determinants of health. These “green drug stores” are upstream factors that provide physical, mental and social, and environment-related health and well-being benefits. Yet, 100 million people in the United States lack access to a park within a 10-minute walk of their homes. These natural or semi-natural outdoor public spaces hold significant underexplored potential for the health of communities. Decisionmakers across the spectrum of community members, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers have the opportunity to leverage parks as a proactive tool for healthy, resilient, and more equitable places. This article aims to highlight the role of parks and green space in generating community health. It includes a brief review of benefits offered as described in the health literature, challenges experienced in elevating parks for health, potential innovative solutions, and three short case studies and lessons learned about parks and community well-being. The overarching conclusions emphasize (a) access, quality, and inclusion as core pillars in advancing the work, (b) placing community voice at the center, and (c) furthering cross-sectoral partnerships in the design of public spaces.

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