Mayors Get It: Parks Are Problem-Solvers

Ask Fort Worth Mayor Betsey Price about parks, and she’ll tell it to you straight: “Great cities all have strong parks. If you look at some of our European model cities, it you look at some of our Asian cities, they all have strong parks,” she says. “In the end, for cities to be very vibrant and very strong, citizens have to be engaged. They have to know each other. They have to know a little bit about their city. They have to know their elected officials. There’s no better place to do that than get people out in a green space, on a trail, along the river, wherever it might be.”

Last December, Price teamed up with Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and the City Parks Alliance to raise awareness about the necessity of strong urban park systems.

“As we compete to keep our cities and our country competitive in the rapidly changing global economy, we must make our cities more livable to support diverse populations and highly skilled workforces,” Hancock says. “Creating and maintaining a strong system of parks and open recreational spaces is key to standing out above the rest.”

Hancock notes that parks can help city-dwellers stay healthy, and serve as a means to close the gap in health disparities.

“It is no coincidence that the areas of [Denver] with the least amount of park acreage per capita also have the highest rates of childhood obesity and other health-related issues. We are actively working to create more equity when it comes to available open space in these neighborhoods,” says Hancock. “In addition to more parks and open space, we’ve also placed outdoor fitness equipment in a number of our parks in underserved parts of the city as a way to encourage folks to make healthy choices and stay active.”

According to a 2012 National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion report, 30 percent of “physically active” American adults take to parks for exercise. Wellness advocates are harnessing the potential of aligning fitness initiatives with city parks. In Chattanooga, an app called Playorities pushes kids to get 45 minutes in a local park per day, allowing pediatricians to issue “park-scripts” and select programs for their young patients in a matter of thumb taps. Price says parks are key to Fort Worth’s fight to bring down its 30 percent obesity rate and create more blue zones, communities stacked with amenities to promote longer and healthier life spans.

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