By CAITLIN FAULDS / ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE: It’s sunny Monday morning at the Dexter Training Grounds in the city’s West End. The birds jump in the yard, empty of children for now. A blue woman, with her headphones on, walks down a tree-lined sidewalk. A man practices martial arts on the grass, concentrating and preparing for a high kick.
Christina Stang goes for a walk, just walking home with her dog, Joseph, who takes advantage of his last minutes outside sniffing the trees. For Stang, who goes out to enjoy the park several times a day, living across from the Dexter Training Grounds, also known as the Dexter Armory Park, “it’s like a dream.”
With a small child at home and three twins on the way during this month of August, he joked that the park will need another swing to make room for everyone.
Last year, the visit to the park skyrocketed across the country due to COVID-19 blockades, and many hailed their local parks as lifeguards and one last remaining social world.
According to Peter James, an assistant professor of environmental health at Harvard University, the concept of green space as a mental health cream goes back a long way.
Edward Wilson, an American naturalist known for his 1984 book “Biophilia”, argued that humanity’s affinity for natural space has its roots in biology, that people are only connected to be attracted and calm. by nature. But, according to James, this calming effect may be due to nature changes in cognitive functioning which allow people to regain energy, “refocus and rebuild.”
The cause is still under consideration, but in analyzing data nationwide, James and his team have found a strong relationship between greenery and reduced risks of depression, as well as more established links to low rates of obesity, reduced risk of disease cardiovascular and limited exposure. to noise and pollution. Even after adjusting for potentially confusing variables, such as income and activity level, the results held.
“I’ve seen a lot of articles recently about this epidemic of loneliness, and I think open spaces really help with that,” said Alex Chuman, custodian director of the Aquidneck Land Trust.
But what if there is no open space around?
Chuman, who works as a lead partner on the Newport Health Equity Zone’s Ecological Urban Spaces working group, is at the forefront of a drive for equal access to green space and benefits for the health it entails.
“Compared to the rest of the city, [the North End] it has a lot less parks and trees, “he said.” It’s below the national standard for what is recommended. “
In 2017, a master plan developed by the Newport Open Space Partnership and adopted by the Newport City Council placed park equity issues at the center of the stage and highlighted serious deficits in North End green space. City officials and local residents are pushing to change that, Chuman said, increasing tree cover and walking ease and making Myantonomi Park safer and more useful for everyone.
But it’s not just a Newport issue. A recent report from the Narragansett Bay estuary program showed that socioeconomically disadvantaged communities had about half the canopy of trees and protected green space than other communities in the Narragansett Bay region.
These are exactly the communities that could use the improvements in local green space the most, according to James. He said the health benefits of public parks are amplified in lower-income communities, which generally have a smaller lot size and less mobility than affluent areas.
And it’s not about “living in Yosemite,” he said. In these spaces, small “smoothing” changes, such as those implemented by the Aquidneck Land Trust and groups run by residents across the state, make a big difference.
“We call [parks] a convenience, but they really are essential, ”James said,“ and basically the right we need to have that space open. ”