Parks, Health, and Happiness

Parks improve mental health? I have been a skeptic.

The value of parks as a place for recreation and exercise is certainly clear. The contribution that parks make to cleaning water and preserving wildlife is also obvious. But mental health? Really?

Yes, indeed.

The January 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine put my skepticism to rest. In “This Is Your Brain on Nature,” Florence Williams cites persuasive evidence and research that exposure to nature (through parks) improves creativity, decreases stress hormones, and calms aggression. The issue begins a yearlong celebration of parks — what National Geographic calls “our common ground.”

Planners have long valued, planned, and improved parks. If you are a fan, the 2016 National Planning Conference in Phoenix has a solid core of education on parks and planning.

Ranging from equity issues to wayfinding and safe routes to cap parks, the program has more than 10 sessions and nine mobile workshops at a variety of active levels.

If you can’t make it to Phoenix this year, you can still join in through the webcast of Parks That Reshape Cities.

Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, a planner with AECOM in Philadelphia and co-author of Green Infrastructure: A Landscape Approach, will speak from his vast experience with parks and design. He will be joined by David Barth, AICP, of the University of Florida in Gainesville. Barth is co-author ofFrom Recreation to Re-Creation, as well as a contributor to APA’s Planning and Urban Design Standards.

About the Author

Carolyn Torma is APA's Director of Education and Citizen Engagement.

Image: Visitors chill with Janet Echelman’s sculpture “Her Secret Is Patience” in Civic Space Park in Phoenix. Photo by Flickr user David Ho (CC BY-ND 2.0).

March 20, 2016

By Carolyn Torma