In my last column about San Jose Parks Foundation, I stressed the economic importance of parks, as well as the overwhelming evidence of the correlation between health and the presence of accessible parks and trails—both for individuals and a community’s wellbeing. There is another layer of health benefits that is even more critical: the essential role that parks and trails play for the environment.
According to recent studies, approximately 80 percent of the American population lives in urban and suburban areas. Parks of all sizes play an important role in preserving and supporting healthy environments.
A network of parks, trails and open spaces are often critical to providing healthy habitats for humans, wildlife and plants in these densely built places. Natural landscapes are vital to preserving regional ecosystems amid growing and active cities.
Urban and suburban areas contain transportation corridors that are filled with carbon-emitting vehicles. These emissions can cause a myriad of health problems for the local population, as well as severely impact the natural environment that still lies within our crowded cities.
Preserving natural elements such as trees and flowers and other natural plants provides a counterforce to the damage that would otherwise be done by urban pollutants. Our parks clean our air for us. Those seemingly sedentary trees and shrubs that line our trails and parks are actually active, providing us with breathable air and absorbing the pollutants.
Parks, trails and open spaces help us reduce our collective Carbon Footprint. City Parks Alliance points out, “Parks help create human and energy efficient cities that are the best hope for slowing global warming. Linear parks and open spaces make compact living attractive and feasible. Trail networks link individual parks, making them easier to bike and walk.” These trails provide recreational opportunities, but also can be invaluable transportation venues between home and work.
Only our imagination limits us in what a park can be or do. We are seeing a trend in old rail lines being transformed into greenways, as is being championed by the Friends of Five Wounds Trail. Community gardens and the planting of flowers and native plants helps even outside of parks, such as gardens planted on rooftops. All of these efforts maximize limited space and curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
Every tree helps fight global warming by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. By absorbing carbon dioxide and pollutants fueling climate change, parks and green infrastructure offset the warming effects on cities, making them cooler. Groups like Our City Forest are doing more than making the city look greener. They are helping us preserve a healthy environment.
Parks also are essential to transporting and storing storm water runoff. This valuable service often goes unnoticed until severe weather or some bizarre accident causes it to fail. Flooding is pretty rare in San Jose, though it has happened. Fortunately, we have a pretty strong green infrastructure through our parks and trails.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at http://www.sanjoseparks.org / [email protected] / 408.893.PARK.