Strategy: Green Space Projects Can Boost Latino Health

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This is part of the Salud America! The State of Latinos and Housing, Transportation, and Green Space: A Research Review »

Summary

Green space initiatives that take community concerns, needs, and desires into consideration may be most effective at improving Latino physical and mental well-being.

Green spaces support public health in many ways—they filter air, remove pollution, attenuate noise, cool temperatures, replenish ground water, mitigate stormwater, and can provide food [53, 54].

Beyond these benefits, however, are the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of green space, as discussed below.

Green Spaces Benefit Latino Physical Health

Policies and programs that specifically work to improve these conditions in Latino communities will go a long way to increasing the use of green spaces present in those communities.

Green Space - Latino park usageTwo studies by Floyd et al. have demonstrated that lower neighborhood income and higher concentration of Latino or African American residents are related to greater park-based physical activity, further suggesting that safe, functional, accessible parks in Latino communities are needed and would be used if available [75, 76].

Thus, while Latinos are less physically active than their White counterparts, this may be due to low access to green space. Access to and maintenance of green spaces are equally important to establishment of new green space.

Green Spaces Benefit Latino Mental Health

In addition to physical health, green space has also been shown to have a profound effect on psychological wellbeing in both children and adults.

In a major Dutch study, Van den Berg et al. demonstrated that individuals with more green space near their home (within a 3km radius) were less affected by stressful life events than those with low access to green space, suggesting that greenery can act as a “buffer” to stress [77]. Park experiences have been shown to directly reduce stress and provide a restorative effect that impacts health, by modulating the immune system and inflammatory factors [78, 79].

While providing a place for physical activity and social interaction, which alone have been shown to improve psychological well-being, there is something about interacting with nature itself that furthers increases these mental health benefits [80–82]. In numerous studies, subjects have undertaken the same social or physical activities in either a built environment or in a natural environment, and in each case those who spent time in nature emerged more restored, less stressed, and reporting less anxiety and/or depression than those who did the same activity, for the same duration, in a built environment [80–83].

Green Space - Latino Kids in NatureFor Latino children, access to green space is an especially important issue, as interaction with nature early in life has been associated with cognitive changes that improve behavioral development and emotional regulation [82].

Add to this the benefits of increased physical activity and decreased stress, and the need for green space in Latino communities cannot be overstated. Furthermore, as a greater number of Latino children are living in more crowded homes with less access to public transport, access to green spaces should be a priority.

Usage of Green Space and Latinos

It is important to note that geographic access alone does not fully capture the issue of Latino’s lack of access to green space.

Usage depends not only on physical accessibility to green space, but also on community perceptions of safety, ownership, and cultural relevance [51, 67, 84].

Green Space - Latino Park Programs 3In several urban examples including Chicago and Los Angeles, race relations have kept Latinos from using parks in their neighborhoods; a given space may be perceived as “belonging” to another group in the community [51, 84].

When properly designed, green spaces contribute to social cohesion, which can only occur when the needs and desires of the residents using the space are heard [85]. Green space can provide a sense of community and feelings of safety by creating vital neighborhood hubs for social interaction [85]. For residents of inner-city apartment buildings, urban green spaces have been linked to stronger ties with neighbors and a greater sense of safety [86, 87].

How to Make Green Space More Accessible to Latinos

For green spaces to be accessible and used by Latinos, they must address the needs of the community in a culturally relevant manner. Several studies that directly asked Latino residents what they would like as green space in their communities uncovered needs and desires common to many Latinos regardless of place of origin [13, 14, 88, 89]. In Green Space - Park as a Central Hubeach case, they highlighted the desire for:

  • A central community park, or “plaza,” to act as a hub for neighborhood events including cultural music and arts festivals, markets, and social events. This plaza could also serve as a center for educational or medical programs and services.
  • Repurposing of vacant lots into spaces and playgrounds for children, to promote positive behaviors and to remove crime from the neighborhood.
  • Complete, safe sidewalks throughout the neighborhood to support the Latino norms of walking to and from the town plaza, and of taking a walk after dinner to socialize with neighbors.
  • Greenways as safe routes to school and as safe routes to public transport (which would be useful for adults as well). Many Latinos emphasized their interest in promoting more child-friendly communities that encourage physical activity.

By incorporating these characteristics into green space initiatives that impact communities with a large number of Latino residents, policymakers can maximize green space use and improve the physical and psychological well-being of Latinos in their communities.

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References for this section »

13. Sandoval, G. F. (2015). Transit Oriented Development and Equity in Latino Neighborhoods: A Comparative Case Study of MacArthur Park (Los Angeles) and Fruitvale (Oakland). National Institute for Transportation and Communities. Retrieved from https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1064&context=trec_reports

14. Sandoval, G. F. (2016). Making Transit-Oriented Development Work in Low–Income Latino Neighborhoods: A comparative case study of Boyle Heights, Los Angeles and Logan Heights, San Diego (pp. 1–74). National Institute for Transportation and Communities.

51. Stodolska, M. (2011). Perceptions of Urban Parks as Havens and Contested Terrains by Mexican-Americans in Chicago Neighborhoods. Leisure Sciences, 33(2), 103–126.

53. Groenwegen, P. P., Van den Berg, A. E., De Vries, S., & Verheij, R. A. (2006). Vitamin G. effect of green space on health, well-being, and social safety. BMC Public Health, 6.

54. Escobedo, F. J., Kroeger, T., & Wagner, J. E. (2011). Urban forests and pollution mitigation: Analyzing ecosystem services and disservices. Environmental Pollution, 159(8–9), 2078–2087.

67. Perry, C. K. (2015). Active living environment assessments in four rural Latino communities. Prev Med Rep, 2, 818–23.

75. Floyd, M. F. (2008). Park-based physical activity in diverse communities of two U.S. cities, 34(4), 299–305.

76. Floyd, M. F. (2008). Environmental and Social Correlates of Physical Activity in Neighborhood Parks: An Observational Study in Tampa and Chicago. Leisure Sciences, 30(4), 360–375.

77. van den Berg, A. E., Maas, J., Verheij, R. A., & Groenewegen, P. P. (2010). Green space as a buffer between stressful life events and health. Social Science & Medicine, 70(8), 1203–1210. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.01.002

78. Woo, J. (2009). Green space, psychological restoration, and telomere length. Lancet, 373(9660), 299–300.

79. Li, Q., & Kawada, T. (2011). Effect of forest environments on human natural killer (NK) activity. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol, 24, 1.

80. Staats, H., Kieviet, A., & Hartig, T. (2003). Where to recover from attentional fatigue: An expectancy-value analysis of environmental preference. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23(2), 147–157. doi:10.1016/S0272-4944(02)00112-3

81. Logan, A. C., & Selhub, E. M. (2012). Vis Medicatrix naturae: does nature “minister to the mind”? BioPsychoSocial Medicine, 6(1), 11. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-6-11

82. Korpela, K. (2014). Analyzing the mediators between nature-based outdoor recreation and emotional well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 37, 1–7.

83. Korpela, K. M., & Ylén, M. P. (2009). Effectiveness of Favorite-Place Prescriptions: A Field Experiment. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36(5), 435–438. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2009.01.022

84. Byrne, J. (2012). When green is White: The cultural politics of race, nature and social exclusion in a Los Angeles urban national park. Geoforum, 43(3), 595–611.

85. Wood, L., & Giles-Corti, B. (2008). Is there a place for social capital in the psychology of health and place? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28(2), 154–163.

86. Kuo, F. E. (1998). Fertile Ground for Community: Inner-City Neighborhood Common Spaces. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(6), 823–851.

87. Kweon, B.-S., Sullivan, W. C., & Wiley, A. R. (1998). Green Common Spaces and the Social Integration of Inner-City Older Adults. Environment and Behavior, 30(6), 832–858.

88. Constante, A. (2018). In a fight for much-needed green spaces, these Latino advocates bring a winning formula. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/fight-much-needed-green-spaces-these-latino-advocates-bring-winning-n841436

89. Rojas, J. (2017). Latino Active Transportion: Reinvigorating Walking in U.S. Suburbs. Streetsblog LA. Retrieved from https://la.streetsblog.org/2017/09/21/latino-active-transportation-reinvigorating-walking-in-u-s-suburbs/

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