Recently Lawn Love released their list of top 100 cities in the United States with the most green space because “exploring nature within your city is a great way to destress and get moving into the new year.”
They ranked the cities on five factors: Green space per capita, number of parks and green spaces, total park acreage, yard size, and the share of land used for parks and recreation. Nashville came in third with an overall score of 39.34, ranking fifth overall for green spaces per capita, 22 in the number of parks, 13 for total park acreage, 57 for share of land used for parks and recreation and number two for yard square footage.
Southeastern cities took the top three spaces, with Chesapeake, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida coming in first and second respectively. Lexington, Kentucky ranks number two overall in the country, right behind Chesapeake, Virginia.
“For each of the 200 biggest United State cities,” said Lawn Love, “we gathered publicly available data on the five factors …. Next, we calculated weighted scores for each factor and averaged the scores for each city across all factors. We eliminated 103 cities lacking sufficient data across all five factors, resulting in a final sample size of 97 cities.”
Parks and green space are important because new research is suggesting that being in nature has positive effects on mental well-being, according to studies done by Michigan State University. They also offer a place to exercise, soak up some sun, rest and recharge.
The study was completed because so many people in the country lack access to parks according to the Trust for Public Land. The organization is working to change that.
“Parks are essential for public health,” says the Trust for Public Lands website. “climate resilience, and strong connected communities. And yet, 100 million people in the U.S.—including 28 million kids—don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of home.”
“There is growing evidence to suggest that being in nature has positive effects on people’s mental health,” according to froglife.org. “Studies have shown that green spaces can lower levels of stress … and reduce rates of depression and anxiety, reduce cortisol levels [When cortisol levels are lower, we are calmer.] … and improve general well-being. Not only can a simple walk in nature boost your mood but also improve your cognitive function and memory… Green spaces can provide a buffer against the negative health impacts of stressful life events.”
“[One] study used an Outdoor Behavioral Health Care approach that combined traditional mental health counseling with wilderness experiences for youth ages 18 to 23 already diagnosed with mental health issues such as mood disorders, substance abuse and anxiety,” according to the Michigan article. “Researchers found that participants who completed the program had a reduction in symptoms of distress and interpersonal difficulties and an increased sense of purpose while participating in the intervention. These benefits continued after discharge.”
The Lawn Love report is the opposite of reports by WPLN and other local sources from previous years that say Nashville doesn’t have enough parks. These articles say that only 45% of people live a 10-minute walk from a park or natural area, which is well below the national average of 75%. The difference may be that Lawn Love is measuring total space, not the distance to a park. Many parks require a drive, including the 1500 acres of Shelby Park and Shelby Bottoms Natural Area. According to nashville.gov, there are 15,134 acres of open space, including 178 parks and 99 miles of greenway.