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Urban Parks Are Part of Public Health & Wellness
Wellness and nature conservation are both receiving increased attention in California, but little is being done to connect them.
The California Institute of Public Affairs (CIPA) is convening a series of workshops to explore ways of connecting wellness and nature in California.
Wellness and nature conservation are both receiving increased attention in California, but little is being done to connect them. A highly successful Australian program is demonstrating the benefits of doing so. We believe California has much to learn from the Australian model.
The first CIPA workshop was held in April 2007 in Sacramento. The main speaker was Gerard O'Neill, a General Manager of Parks Victoria, which launched an initiative called "Healthy Parks, Healthy People."
Australia’s urban residents, like those in the United States, tend to be more and more sedentary and have less and less contact with nature. Parks Victoria commissioned a survey of scientific literature (see links) which found clear evidence that access to nature can reduce stress, boost immunity, enhance mental health, speed recovery from illness, promote community cohesion, enhance productivity, and even reduce crime.
Some of the same ideas are set out by San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Richard Louv in his recent book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Based on these scientific findings, Parks Victoria:
- Conducts a “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” media campaign aimed at increasing public awareness of the benefits of experiences in nature, including — but going well beyond — benefits of outdoor exercise.
- Has formed partnerships with the state’s medical societies and health associations, as well as the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), an independent state government agency. Through these partnerships, posters and brochures are distributed to general practitioners’ offices statewide, and doctors give information to new mothers about the reasons for introducing young children to the natural environment and ways of doing so.
- Works to build social capital, for example, by engaging more closely with local communities, involving more volunteers in park programs, and holding public events.
"Healthy Parks, Healthy People" is now being adopted by three other Australian states, at the national level in Australia, and in Canada.
Participants in the April 2007 workshop were California state officials and leaders of health and conservation organizations. They included
- senior representatives of the Governor's Office;
- the California Health and Human Services Agency,
- including the Department of Health Services;
- California State Parks;
- the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy; and
- staff of state legislative committees.
- the California Center for Civic Participation,
- The California Wellness Foundation,
- the California Medical Association Foundation;
- The Nature Conservancy,
- the Sierra Club,
- the California Park and Recreation Society, and
- Walk Sacramento.
This project is led Elisabeth Kersten and Ted Trzyna. Others on the project steering committee are Michael R. Eaton, The Nature Conservancy; Joseph T. Edmiston, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a unit of The Resources Agency of California); and Ruth Holton-Hodson, The California Wellness Foundation.
More information: www.interenvironment.org/cipa/wellness.htm,/a>
California Institute of Public Affairs
P.O. Box 189040
Sacramento, California 95818, USA
Tel. (1 916) 442-2472 - Fax on request
Edited by Carolyn Allen