Green streets, healthier lives

November 18, 2008

The Globe's Green Blog recently highlighted a study touting the health benefits of community green space.

REEP youth at ACE's summer outing enjoy one of the few Roxbury parks

The study suggested that parks, trees, and landscaped areas in a neighborhood can help reduce residents' risk of heart attack and stroke.

Even the tiniest green spaces can be powerful tools in confronting public health problems. As one of the doctors who conducted the study put it, "This study offers valuable evidence that green space does more than 'pretty up' the neighborhood - it appears to have real effects on health inequality, of a kind that politicians and health authorities should take seriously."

ACE has understood and advocated for the benefits of green spaces for a long time. Green spaces, in the form of parks, urban farms, and trees on local streets, can reduce localized pollution and encourage recreation.

Dudley Square, home to the MBTA's busiest bus station, has been subject to significant localized pollution. The long history of environmental injustices in Roxbury has led to the area's asthma rate being six times the state average. The redevelopment of Dudley must include landscaping that helps reduce this pollution and the detrimental health effects it causes. As the study stated, "Urban and roadside trees may be an under-used resource both in terms of acting as natural 'pollution monitors' and actively screening people, especially, children and the already ill, from the damaging health effects of particle pollution."

Green spaces also improve public health by encouraging exercise. Across the city, not just downtown, streets and buildings should offer publicly accessible landscaped areas for relaxation and recreation.

ACE has long maintained that the benefits of green development must be focused on communities that have been burdened by past environmental harms. New building in Dudley must include green spaces that improve our neighborhood's appearance, health, and wellbeing. We've known all along what the researchers associated with this study concluded: "Environments that promote good health might be crucial in the fight to reduce health inequalities."