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A prescription for public health: Seattle Parks measure

Seattle's Seward Park Credit: Flickr user joeydz

When voters decide whether to support Seattle parks this August, more will be at stake than green space alone.

Over the past decade, a growing body of research has found what the Olmsted Brothers knew intuitively as they designed Seattle’s system of public parks more than 100 years ago: Parks are good for public health.

Let’s briefly review the key research findings:

  • Parks are appealing venues for physical activity, and people with access to parks are more physically active. That’s important at a time when obesity and sedentary lifestyles are epidemic, and contribute to a host of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, arthritis, stroke, depression, and sleep disorders, which account for more than 20% of total US health care costs.
  • Parks and green space are a strategy for building mental health and well-being. They are associated with reduced stress and depressive symptoms, and with improved attention, self-discipline, social ties, and quality of life.
  • As places where people congregate, mix, and mingle, parks help build “social capital” — the bonds of trust and reciprocity that link us to other people.  Social capital, in turn, is one of the strongest predictors of health and well-being.
  • Parks offer many indirect health benefits, such as cooling the city during heat waves, managing storm water and improving air quality.

Many of the health benefits of parks depend on people actually going to the parks. And park use rises when parks are well maintained, safe and accessible, and when the parks include attractive facilities and high-quality programs.

In short, access to safe, clean and well-maintained parks is good for your health.

Yet for years we’ve neglected our park system. Daily maintenance has been reduced at virtually every park and community center and we now face a $267 million maintenance backlog — and it’s growing.

It’s time to invest in our parks again, so they are open, beautifully maintained and accessible to all. When the current parks levy expires this year, we should establish a Seattle Park District. That’s the goal of Proposition 1, which will be on the Seattle ballot on August 5.

If approved, Proposition 1 will provide stable, dedicated funding for our parks, ballfields and community centers and assure access for all. It will address a wide variety of parks system needs, including: major maintenance, such as replacing leaky roofs, outdated boilers and sub-par electrical wiring; ongoing maintenance, including restroom cleaning, trash pickup and lawn mowing; restoration of staffing, hours and programs at community centers for kids and seniors; acquistion of new parks and open space to meet increased demand; and funding to protect habitat and open space. These are sound investments in health, well-being, community and quality of life. 

All this critical work will cost the owner of a $400,000 home about $4 a month more than the expiring parks levy.

In public health, it’s axiomatic that everybody should have access to vaccinations, preventive screening, health care when sick, wholesome food and clean air and water. In just the same way, everybody should have access parks and green space. Proposition 1 will provide the resources to help ensure that our parks serve every neighborhood and community across Seattle.  

An ounce of green prevention could result in many pounds of cure. On August 5, please join me in voting Yes for Parks on Proposition 1.

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