The Environmental Value of Parks

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  / [email protected]  / 408.893.PARK.


  1. Guadalupe River Park is a great place to take the kids.  The exercise they get by running on the grass is even better than at other parks, because there it also includes having to hurdle over passed out drunks and drug addicts.

    • I travelled the Guadalupe River Park the other day and it has a lot of potential.  It will take a lot of money to get the transients out of there, but then the garbage and smell should go away- couldn’t believe how many plastic bags and other hazardous waste was strewn along the banks!

  2. This is more of the “cognitive dissonance” that goes on with Downtown.  There was a great example of that in the Merc today.  The Merc’s story had to do with a vision for a “Times Square of Silicon Valley”.

    The parks foundation has to pander to the downtown-centric powers that be in San Jose by including the obligatory picture of Guadalupe Park, while it also has to sell its vision of parks to the rest of us.  Unfortunately the two really don’t go together.  Sort of like Jojo’s comment on kids getting their exercise by jumping over passed out drunks and druggies in Guadalupe Park.

    Getting back to the “Times Square of Silicon Valley”.  Did anyone ever stop to think that airplanes will be on their landing approaches when the fly by this wonderful place?  How are they going to achieve a high population density with the FAA height limitations that come with being next to the airport’s glide path?  Or that there will always have to be a very large vacant area on one side of the “Times Square of Silicon Valley” directly under the flight path, that will by definition not have a high population density – even if it fills up with tents.

  3. SJPD used to have a Parks Enforcement Unit equiped with 4×4’s and of road capable motorcycles that used to patrol the City’s parks. Used to also have a Horse Mounted Unit that raomed parks too… Used have about 1457 officers now only about 970… how safe is Guadalupe Oak Grove Park in Almaden? the body of a 20 something found dead from stab wounds in the late afternoon. 

    What is the SJ Parks Foundation doing to keep park users in San Jose safe?

  4. I don’t really see any comments about the environmental value of parks, so I am not sure what you read or saw above.

    This seems to be a display of vitriol competing with ignorance. It’s a close competition. Let me help you out: (1) The photo above is a god photo that show a storm protection system that is also a park. (2) Neither I nor the Parks Foundation panders to any downtown-centric power – I’m not even sure what or who that is; (3) I have no connection with the article or the concept of “Times Square” of San Jose. (4) Cutting the Rangers is directly linked to the build up of homeless in Guadalupe Park and elsewhere; (5) Safety of parks is related to people using the parks; the more people that frequent a park the less you’ll find criminals, vagrants or graffiti.

    San Jose Parks Foundation is in the business of working with neighborhoods and community groups to preserve and protect our parks and trails, as the budget cuts are hitting. When pot-shotting critics become activists in building better parks, please contact us. We’re looking for real people with energy, commitment and vision to re-imagine and re-define our parks for an era of less government. We own these parks, so talking about “them” is a waste of time when we should be looking at how “we” can take over custodianship.

    • We’re looking for real people with energy, commitment and vision to re-imagine and re-define our parks for an era of less government. We own these parks, so talking about “them” is a waste of time when we should be looking at how “we” can take over custodianship.

      So it’s not about the environmental value of parks, it’s about “taking custodianship of these parks?  Sorry, but when I seen something with an obvious agenda, it’s hard not to comment.

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