More Parks and Trees Can Increase Life Expectancy

New research shows that increasing park acreage in areas that face park deficits and low levels of tree canopy could lead to significant population-level increases in life expectancy.

2 minute read

November 22, 2020, 9:00 AM PST

By Clement Lau

Chicago Lake Michigan Trees

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

"Parks Make Life Better" is a popular slogan used in the field of parks and recreation. It has been validated through numerous studies which demonstrate the many benefits of parks and how they indeed make life better for communities. Now new research conducted by UCLA in partnership with Prevention Institute and an advisory board of community-based organizations shows that parks can even help people live longer.

Specifically, the research offers the following findings:

  • Increasing park acreage in areas that face park deficits and low levels of tree canopy could lead to significant population-level increases in life expectancy.
  • Targeted investments in park infrastructure would significantly benefit the health of Latino and Black community members.
  • This is especially important in communities, like South Los Angeles, where the median life expectancy is 77 years, which is well below the upper bound for the county as a whole. In Beverly Hills, less than 15 miles away, life expectancy is as high as 90 years—13 years longer.
  • If all the census tracts in L.A. County expanded park access up to the county median, it could add up to 164,700 years in life-expectancy gains for residents living in park-poor tracts. Latino and Black community residents comprise almost 72 percent of the gain (118,000 years). 

Written by Elva Yañez of Prevention Institute, this article further identifies various actions that should be taken to address park inequities. Examples include: developing new policies and practices and reforming existing ones to prioritize investments in communities experiencing the greatest park deficits; evaluating agency policies and initiatives to assess their impact to reverse or reinforce park inequities and make corrections as necessary; and engaging with and listening to people living in low-income communities of color that have been historically excluded from park-related decision making. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020 in Parks & Recreation Magazine

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