This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for city parks.
I’ve often said that the single greatest thing about New York City isn’t the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Broadway plays nor the shopping experiences. It’s Central Park. We should all give kudos to the city fathers who had the incredible foresight years ago to set aside 843 acres of parkland in the middle of the city for the residents to enjoy in so many ways. It’s probably the chief reason the downtown of a crowded city of over 8 million people is quite livable.
I grew up in a suburb of Toronto, in a house which backed onto a large park. It was great, even if in summer the powerful lights on the tennis courts (about 40 feet behind our fence) did make sleeping before 11PM a bit of a challenge at times. It had a wooden fort for us kids to play on, tennis courts for the adults (which were commandeered for ‘street hockey’ in winter) , swings, and acres of grassy field sloping down from a public school at the end of the street. Tobogganing in winter? Check? Soccer games in summer? Check. Flying a kite in windy weather? Check. Old Scotsman practicing bagpipes at sunset? Check, much to my (and some other nearby residents) chagrin. No matter what the season, the park was in use by people from blocks around. No wonder a study in Boulder, Colorado showed that house prices increase by over $4 per foot the closer they are to a park. Put another way, a house beside a city park is worth about $20 000 more than the identical one a mile away.
Parks provide actual physical benefits to the cities they’re in. They filter out rainwater and can reduce flooding. The grassy, or especially treed ones actually cool down summer heat. A large park can reduce the temperature by up to five degrees in summer compared to nearby areas. (Urban “heat islands” tend to cause cities to be much hotter than nearby rural areas because of the amount of pavement radiating heat back up from the ground.) They add oxygen, so, if extensive enough, they can reduce air pollution. And often times, they’re homes to wildlife. But even those things are really just side-effects. The real glory of parks is the psychological and social.
Parks offer residents places to congregate and to exercise safely. I would guess many of the joggers in Central Park would be much more sedentary if they were having to job between couriers and taxis down 42nd Street. Playing hockey on a snowy tennis court? Fine. Playing hockey on a busy city street? Not looked at as fondly by drivers or even police. They keep us in shape. But the real thing… they calm us down. They make us happy. A Finnish study showed even 10 minutes in a city park “tangibly reduces stress” in most people. Imagine what a “Saturday in the Park” would do for our mental state.
So here’s to parks…and the cities smart enough to maintain and promote them.