Nearly one year ago, the Institute hosted a multidisciplinary conference that explored cutting edge research and best practice around climate change education and communication. Parks: The New Climate Classroom provided a wide-ranging, high-level discussion on how practitioners can engage new audiences and move people to take action on climate change.
Since then, the Institute has been exploring how we can take these lessons and use them to support and elevate place-based, informal climate change education in the Bay Area.
Our first stop on this journey was assessing the current landscape of informal climate change education in the Bay Area. What climate education programs currently exist? What are the challenges? What are the needs? And is there a role for us to support environmental educators in developing and delivering these programs?
To find the answer to these questions, we embarked on a formal needs assessment. From June to September, the Institute interviewed over 70 Bay Area environmental educators from over 40 different organizations. These included park and other government agencies, museums, aquariums, place-based and sustainability-focused education organizations, and more.
While we are still analyzing the results, one outcome was clear: Bay Area environmental educators are passionate about increasing the quantity, quality, and impact of their climate change programs. There is a strong sense of urgency and broad agreement on the importance of addressing this issue. At the same time, many educators are struggling with challenges unique to climate change. How do we discuss climate change in a way that empowers rather than overwhelms our audience? How do we talk about climate change in a way that is age appropriate? How do we inspire our learners to take action and how do we measure those impacts?
To help environmental educators tackle these and other challenges, the Institute is facilitating the formation of a Bay Area collaborative whose ultimate vision is to build climate literacy and action throughout the Bay Area.
While we are in the very early stages of our collaborative formation, the Institute has found the level of interest and passion for this initiative to be inspiring. Over the coming months, we will be working with these environmental education organizations to develop a common agenda, collaborative structure, working groups, and shared outcomes.
It is a very exciting time for this group and we can’t wait to see how it all develops. Watch this space for the results of our needs assessment, due to be completed next month, as well as regular updates on the progress of the Bay Area climate literacy collaborative!
The Institute has been analyzing fabulous, unexpected outreach strategies at work in national parks near big cities. In particular, we have been trying to identify just what makes youth programs at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Golden Gate National Parks so ridiculously effective at engaging young people from a wide range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Both parks are employing small but mighty program strategies to go after audiences that aren’t traditionally major park users, and we’ll share those key tools in our diversity report by the end of the year.
In the meantime, however, we’re also finding an underlying philosophical approach that is not intuitive: quit focusing on the park. When park program managers let go of their own program ideas and begin with the goal of serving a specific community, everything shifts—especially outreach strategy. This shift feels risky because it asks park staff to look away from the task of protecting natural and cultural resources, and to focus instead on helping people. Though preservation is important, it can easily become an all-consuming task that fails to take potential park users’ needs into account. Positioning the park as a dynamic solution to social ills, on the other hand, transforms it from delicately preserved museum piece to beloved tool. Parks with program managers who think this way are likely to be used more, with all the attendant risks, but they are also much more likely to be cherished and safeguarded by the growing number of people who use them.
At Crissy Field Center (CFC), this philosophy is hard at work in decisions about how to allocate staff time. With their people-first perspective, staff members regularly work outside the park, attending community convener meetings in under-resourced neighborhoods around San Francisco. This investment in understanding potential park audience experiences and challenges shapes CFC programs, instead of vice versa. And since the park has its finger on the pulse of what young, under-resourced San Franciscans actually want and need, its programs have a place in the social justice world of this city. It’s a different kind of outreach, but it seems to be working.
Every day, more than 750,000 people visit America’s National Parks. Many come for the wide array of recreational opportunities: walking, running, biking, hiking, birding, climbing, enjoying a picnic with family or friends – the list is almost endless.
Many visitors also come to our parks eager to learn: about the place, plants, animals and people who have called it home. With 95% of our learning opportunities happening outside a formal classroom, there are many different ways for people to learn something new and interesting in our parks.
The National Park Service has a long history as an educator and interpreter of America’s stories. In hundreds of parks across the country, rangers, partner organizations and volunteers help audiences enjoy transformative learning experiences. What more inspiring places could there be to soak up knowledge?
As the world transforms with new challenges and technologies, how can our parks adapt to serve people's changing interests and needs?
Earlier this year, the National Park Service published a new report, Achieving Relevance in Our Second Century. The report sets out a strategy for how parks can be relevant and of value to our changing population in terms of interpretation, education, and volunteerism. It establishes ambitious goals for how parks can be more relevant and inclusive of all Americans, and can take on the mantle of leadership in informal education.
The plan also raises the thorny question of funding and resources. How we can achieve our ambitious and lofty goals in a time of budget constraints?
The Institute at the Golden Gate is proud to support this vision and parks’ efforts to turn an inspiring vision into a practical reality. We believe in the power of parks to help inform, educate, and empower all Americans. Imagine if every young person could visit a park and leave feeling inspired and motivated about our country’s history or its current challenges?
In the coming months, we’ll have more news and announcements on how we’re supporting these important efforts.
On October 13th, the Institute will be co-hosting the 2nd Annual National Convening on Park Prescriptions with the National Parks and Recreation Association in Charlotte, NC. We have invited the nation’s Park Prescription champions to share their on-the-ground stories of program implementation. Our Park Prescription friends have programs that are unique to their regions, but we realized at the 1st national convening that there are operational hurdles that every program will need to overcome in order to create a sustainable program. At this event, this group of park managers, program managers, clinicians, and professors will come together to learn from each other.
Check back for a follow-up on how Park Prescriptions is moving forward!
Park Prescriptions are just one of the ways that our coalition partners are keeping people and parks healthy for future generations.
The Institute proudly partners with Cavallo Point Lodge to welcome nonprofits and government overnight groups for environmental or park focused meetings November through April of each year.
Just minutes from San Francisco with eco-friendly indoor facilities and a delectable food options including a Michelin-starred restaurant, Cavallo Point Lodge is the perfect setting for your next meeting. Call today to arrange an in-person walk-through or discuss details for your meeting. Visit our Convene page for more information.
Eating wholesome food and engaging in regular physical activity are not things that you start or finish, they are a state of being—a lifestyle. Due to the rising concern over our youth obesity rates we decided to take an in-depth look at how our communities and our lifestyles in the San Francisco Bay Area are affected. But, what does it mean to be in a state of wellbeing? What does it mean to be healthy?
These are the questions that I set out to explore in partnership with the Crissy Field Center. This summer marked the 10th anniversary of the Urban Trailblazers (UTB) program, so there was an extra rush of energy to make this one special. We decided to shed the spotlight on this paid, 7-week summer program, which exposed local middle school youth to a variety of fun and health-related activities.
In collaboration with the Crissy Field Center, we incorporated themes of Health and Wellness into the summer experience to cover topics like healthy, sustainable food and physical and mental health. Some of the highlights included: overnight trips to Yosemite, Alcatraz, and the Presidio, as well as trips to Slide Ranch, a sustainable farm in Marin, and the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park. These experiences were meant to kindle an inward look into how each of us relate to our food, our environment, and each other.
In order to find out what our youth already knew about health and wellness we conducted a pre-program survey. This helped us learn how to approach these topics so that students would feel engaged and empowered. I also spent a lot of time with the youth, directly observing their activities throughout the summer and conducting one-on-one interviews with a randomly-selected group of students.
In order to measure the impact of the program, we are currently conducting a post-program survey that will showcase what the students learned and the tools they gained that will help them explore these topics on their own.
Much of the thought behind our work was exemplified in an article published in last month’s issue of Parks and Recreation, Park Prescriptions in Practice, which stated that increased physical activity and time spent in nature has a variety of health benefits ranging from an improved sense of social cohesion, reduced stress, to an improved quality of sleep. This, combined with a healthy and wholesome diet, paves the way to ensure we are at our best.
This summer experience taught me a few things about our youth: they are concerned about our environment, including the drought that is currently hitting California; they want to make friends and work together to address topics that are relevant to their communities, like litter and homelessness; they want to initiate new programs that increase the bonds of neighbors in their communities; and they are concerned about what they are putting into their bodies and how things are grown. Therefore, we have the opportunity to unleash this potential and interest from the next generation of environmentalists and let it flourish. We owe it to our youth to seize the moment and empower them. This could be as simple as inviting a friend for a walk, preparing a meal for a sibling or friend with produce from the local farmer’s market, or helping out at your local gardens, homeless shelter or food banks. Action, no matter how small, is taking this positive movement forward.
Here at the Institute, we’ve been reading UC Berkeley professor Carolyn Finney’s new book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. In it, Finney explores how the environment and nature became racialized concepts in the United States, partly by delving into the history of slavery and Jim Crow laws. She also challenges media representations of how Americans of color connect to open space and adds complexity to the (prevailingly white) cultural narratives that we use to define and claim outdoor experiences for ourselves and others. The so-called “white spaces” of American national parklands are past due for some change.
Dr. Finney’s work is exciting not just because Black Faces, White Spaces is beautifully written and thought-provoking, but because it’s part of a larger discussion about making parks more relevant to a broader diversity of people. Initiatives in the National Park Service, private industry, and environmental non-profits are all beginning efforts to see public lands in new ways so we can use them more inclusively. For example, check out the line-up of the new Diverse Environmental Leaders (DEL) National Speakers Bureau, intended to “provide knowledgeable, articulate and experienced experts of color to build broad community support for the protection of our public lands through relevancy, diversity and inclusion.” (DEL website) "Every member has individually done some seriously inspiring environmental work, so we can expect this newly-launched group to have a major impact.
The Institute’s Urban program has some related efforts of its own. This year, we’re researching and analyzing outreach strategies at the Crissy Field Center here in the Golden Gate National Parks and the SAMO Youth program in Santa Monica National Recreation Area. These powerful projects have shaped themselves around the needs of youth in nearby, underserved communities—multi-ethnic ones in San Francisco and chiefly Latino ones in Los Angeles. As a result, they not only provide job training, safe places to be after school, and financial help in the form of a stipend, they create enduring bonds between communities of color and national parkland. We’re excited to share their programmatic successes and the learning experiences they’ve had along the way.
When we got to East Bay Regional Park District’s (EBRPD) Crab Cove, it was hot, and we were late. Naturalists were teaching participants how to use compasses—real compasses—and real maps, hand-drawn on paper, with lines showing magnetic and true north. They did not come with Siri’s reassuring voice. I felt a little panicked thinking that this was not entertaining enough for the patients who had taken their day off to come into nature with us. My own children sat down and announced they were not participating.
UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland (CHO) Primary Care Center has partnered with EBRPD to take our patients into nature by offering a monthly shuttle from our clinic to a local park. Doctors and their families, as well as EBRPD staff, join patients and their families on these monthly outings.
Our goal is to increase opportunities for physical activity while having fun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states children should enjoy 60 minutes of physical activity a day, at least 5 days a week, and most of it should be aerobic. That means we should be getting aerobic activity—such as brisk walking—everyday; and three times a week, this should be a vigorous activity, such as running. Adults need 75 minutes of jogging or running every week and muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week.
This may sound hard to achieve. Yet, research shows that simply being outside leads to increased physical activity. Children are two to three times more physically active outdoors than indoors. For every hour children are outside, they spend about 27 minutes of it in activity. Exercise in natural setting has added emotional and mental health benefits: for example, improved attention span, as well as improved feelings of serenity, energy, happiness.
have access to a variety of landscapes—“hardscapes” such as asphalt as well as natural landscapes. Play in outdoor settings with natural elements, such as a hiking trail or boulder-size rocks, has been shown to have added benefits of improved motor strength, balance, and coordination for children. A variety of landscapes may engage a wider variety of personalities or temperaments of children in physical activity. More imaginative children may be more engaged in natural settings.
As I felt my own mental resistance to figuring out the compass, I worried that this activity was not active enough to achieve our goal—I was wrong.
Once we learned how to use compasses, the families were split into groups and came up with their own team names: Team Confused, Team Larry, Team Gooze, and Team Marbin. Most groups ran off in the wrong direction. Team Marbin, led by CHO’s own Dr. Jyothi Marbin and her husband Seth, realized everyone else’s error and stealthily headed in the other way. By the time others realized, the Marbins were way ahead of the rest.
And then it was on!
As we followed our compasses towards the site where the last flag appeared to be, each team running to catch up with the Marbins, we saw that the Marbins (now joined by members of team Gooze) had veered just slightly to the right of the correct path. Team Confused quietly ran in the direction of the flag while trying not to be seen. They saw it at the same time as the Marbins, and although members of the Marbins and Gooze ran as quickly as they could to the flag, Team Confused touched it first. Team Larry arrived seconds after.
In the end, Marbins, Confused, and Gooze happily shared the glory.
A quiet calm came over the well-exercised children and adults as we walked back to the Crab Cove visitor’s center to watch some fish-feeding. That is, until doctors and patients, children and adults, burst into a fierce game of banana tag.
I can’t tell you exactly how many minutes of physical activity we got that day. But I can tell you that no family was going to be left behind. And, my total pedometer steps in that 2 hour excursion: 6,000.
With that, I hope to see you in the parks!
Nooshin Razani, MD MPH. Nooshin is a pediatrician and Nature Champion trained by the National Environmental Education Foundation to prescribe nature for health. She is currently Senior Health Fellow at the Institute at the Golden Gate.
with Kelley Meade, MD. Dr. Meade is a pediatrician and Associate Director of the Primary Care Clinic at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. The shuttle project is part of her healthcare leadership fellowship at the Center For Health Professions sponsored by the California Healthcare Foundation.
Photos by Nooshin Razani and Mona Koh of EBRPD.
Many thanks to East Bay Regional Parks Foundation for sponsoring the outings, and to the Institute at the Golden Gate for donating water bottles and pedometers.
The SEEDS program, or Senior Environmental Education Docent Support program, continues to build relationships and strengthen existing Healthy Parks, Healthy People networks. The docents are community members of southeastern San Francisco who help to recruit people to attend HPHP events both at McLaren Park and Heron’s Head on the third and fourth Saturday’s of the month. My first experience meeting the SEEDS was at their training held in late June. The training focused on strengthening the docents’ environmental knowledge as well as helping them understand recruitment tactics for HPHP events. The learning goals for SEEDS participants after the summer events include, describing three health benefits of nature, sharing with others three aspects of local ecology, suggesting three parks in the Bayview Hunters Point where people can go to improve their health, leading a warm welcome and stretch in the outdoors, and sharing their excitement for the outdoors with a group.
The SEEDS are wonderfully kind and willing to share incredible personal stories of their early experiences in nature as well as other experiences as local San Franciscans. The training was a mix of heart felt conversations about what it means to connect with nature, how to successfully recruit members of the community as well as group stretching followed by a healthy amount of laughter.
I was also fortunate enough to attend a HPHP Bay Area event at McLaren Park lead by SFRPD’s Lisa McHenry with the help of SEEDS docents. McLaren Park is a great place to take a walk namely because of its size, and feeling of wilderness. Tucked away in the morning fog, you almost feel like you are hundreds of miles away from any city until you bask in the gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge below the blue water tower in the center of the park. In addition to the thrill of walking through one of my favorite parks in the Bay Area, I was able to talk and share knowledge with attendees who made me crack up with their inside jokes, and intimate knowledge of SF nightlife. Taking a walk with the SEEDs was moving, powerful and inspiring and spoke to the important forces of social cohesion in nature. I encourage everyone to get outside with new friends!
Driving through the Presidio, crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge, and dropping into Fort Baker every day for work, it’s easy to forget that not all city-dwellers have such easy, regular access to beautiful natural landscapes and open spaces. In the Bay Area, we are fortunate to have a number of strong park agencies collaborating to improve our quality of life and the health of the environment.
Here at the Institute, we believe that urban parks must play a leading role in ensuring the relevance of open space to an increasingly urban population. Parks face a number of challenges and opportunities in contributing to healthy, sustainable urban communities. How do they effectively serve and attract a diversity of user groups that reflect the communities in which they are based? How do they build life-long stewardship among a generation that is increasingly disconnected from the natural environment?
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is considered a leader in terms of establishing a strong connection with the local communities. Ruth Pimentel, our urban fellow, is addressing these issues by examining the success at Golden Gate, comparing it to other similarly effective park programs, and pulling out the key stories, best practices, and themes. Through this research, we hope to build a roadmap that is replicable and scalable in other urban parks.
This is just the first step in our emerging Urban program and we’re looking forward to continuing to build on our partnership with the National Park Service on this issue locally, regionally, and nationally. We plan to continue asking these questions and pushing urban parks to become leaders in building resilient, healthy, and sustainable cities.
Last Thursday, Institute staff and Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area (HPHP: Bay Area) champions made the trek to Microsoft’s offices in Mountain View to attend a “Collaboration for Great Impact” workshop. We joined our friends who have been working on environmental and climate change initiatives to reflect on the Collective Impact model’s role in our own work with HPHP: Bay Area. Pioneered by the social impact consultants, FSG, Collective Impact is a framework to align the work of different organizations into a single goal. Briefly, the five pillars of Collective Impact are: (1) a common agenda, (2) shared measurement, (3) mutually reinforcing activities, (4) continuous communication, and (5) backbone support.
When the HPHP: Bay Area program started in 2012, the Institute was under no illusions that this would be anything but a seriously complicated endeavor. Not only were we asking for help to create more public programming in the park, but we were asking the collective Bay Area to see nature and parks through the lens of wellness. In working with physicians to prescribe nature and encouraging parks to pave more trails in underserved communities, we have been making small steps towards a change in the broader culture of health, wellness, and parks.
Thankfully, we at the Institute are not doing this alone. Through the years, the HPHP: Bay Area program has cultivated a group of organizations and advocates that is engaged in bridging public health and public parks. As we continue to roll out the HPHP: Bay Area programming and bring more healthcare advocates to the fold, this workshop was a time for us to think critically about the future of HPHP: Bay Area through the lens of Collective Impact and its five pillars of success. Often, we are so wrapped up in the day-to-day operations that it is hard to find the time to reflect and learn from our past efforts.
During the workshop we participated in an exercise that had us imagine what HPHP: Bay Area would look like in 2025 and what would be telltale signs of its success. One partner answered that all awareness campaigns about the significant linkages between nature and wellness are obsolete because communities in 2025 will see that as blatantly obvious. Another partner highlighted the potential lessening of chronic diseases in 2025 as a measurement of success. Working backwards from these visions for the future, our group looked at potential steps we could take in the next month or year to make these goals a possibility. We listed different sectors we wanted to bring into the world of HPHP: Bay Area, as well as plans to create ongoing communication and dialogue within the group. We are still digesting all of the different ideas related to the five pillars that we came up with and will be eager to share them with you soon!
The year 2025 might be over a decade away, but we at HPHP: Bay Area know that change does not happen all at once. We are amplifying our efforts today in order to make sure that communities in 2025 have the motive, means, and opportunities to visit parks and increase wellness.
Special thanks to our friends at ChangeScale for hosting such a great event!
Urban parks create opportunities for community intervention and social interaction, which allows for the transfer of social capital. As social beings, humans require interactions with others and what better place to be amongst friends and soon–to-be friends than an urban park! A question that I have grappled with throughout my research as a health consultant at the Institute at the Golden gate is--how do we create positive interactions within these immensely important spaces? Parks can be both loved and feared places depending on how the space is being used.
Through my previous work as a park ranger and environmental educator I have seen first-hand what green space can do for people from all walks of life. Now, at the Institute I am able to dig a little deeper on the important connection between parks and social cohesion. The great landscape architect, Fredrick Law Olmstead, designed both Central Park and Prospect Park with the grand notion of vast open plazas built for social interaction. The ultimate melting ground—parks—offer an opportunity for tremendous information sharing and knowledge. The great opportunity of parks as a place for social cohesion also proposes a potential problem; parks are not always a safe place. As a UC Berkeley masters student studying city planning, I have often looked to Jane Jacobs, a journalist, author and activist known for her fight against urban renewal. Jacobs proposes more eyes on the street—meaning taking ownership of your community.
One of the most successful community based projects is the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. Tired of disinvestment, neglect and redlining practices, members of the Roxbury/North Dorchester neighborhood of Boston established the coalition in 1984. The initiative accomplished so many wonderful things including convincing the government of Boston to grant the power of eminent domain over 60 acres of abandoned land called the Dudley Triangle. Another important success story was turning three urban parks in this neighborhood, once used as a primary instrument for drug trade, into positive coalition driven public space.
The opportunity is the nexus between city planning and health- which the Institute at the Golden Gate strives to answer with both Park Prescriptions and Healthy Parks, Healthy People. The built environment can influence all aspects of a person’s life from education, job opportunities, physical fitness, food offerings, and overall life span. Parks provide a tremendous opportunity for connection amongst a growing diversity of people in urban areas. Much of the existing research has focused on connections between social cohesion and health but many studies have not included how parks can influence social cohesion. The Institute will be digging further into these important links and I look forward to sharing this research and work.
Cavallo Point Lodge has been consistently named one of the best resorts in the country and we couldn't be prouder to call it a partner. In cooperation with Cavallo Point Lodge, the Institute is able to welcome environmentally-focused organizations and groups to Fort Baker by offering a specially-discounted rate. Between November 1st and April 30th (holiday weekends excluded), eligible organizations can apply for lodging and meeting facilities at heavily discounted rates.
Come enjoy Cavallo Point Lodge’s 14,000+ square feet of adaptable meeting space, extraordinary meal options such as acclaimed restaurant Murray Circle or laid back Farley Bar, relaxing Healing Arts & Spa, and more in this wonderful National Park setting.
For a limited time, the Institute can also offer this discounted rate during the month of August 2014!
This month, the Institute fellows shadowed Urban Trailblazer (UTB) youth from the Crissy Field Center (CFC) on a trip to Yosemite. Every summer, the students in this middle school program spend four days and three nights camping, hiking, and exploring in the grand, wild remoteness that Yosemite can offer and bustling Crissy Field can’t.
From the perspective of the Institute’s urban program, this trip is a highly concentrated look at some complicated city-to-park relationships. Style-conscious students wore Converse sneakers and Air Jordans for a steep mountain hike of eight miles, including one who had wadded-up paper stuffed in at his heels. Halfway there, leading the group at a speedy pace, he told leaders that he had never gone hiking before. Another student, awed by the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove, murmured, “There’s hella trees, yo.” High school staffers—who were program participants themselves not so long ago—shouldered much of the responsibility, modeling outdoor knowhow at an attainable level. They carried extra water for those who might need it, pitched in to cook over the campfire, and led games that left the middle school set giggling and rolling on the ground. The participants clearly admired these young leaders who looked and sounded like they did: “You’re boss,” one said at the end of the week.
As part of the Institute’s Health and Wellness Initiative, I decided to join the group not only as an additional source of support but also as an innovative form of evaluation; namely, I would have the opportunity to participate in the hike, splash around underneath the waterfall, and of course, to tell some jokes, all in the name of information gathering. We wanted to gain insight into the CFC methods and learn from the students firsthand what they are learning about their peers, the environment, and themselves. In addition to appreciating the wild on the hike or in the water, we took the opportunity to introduce a healthy menu that was both delicious and nutritious. After dinner when the bellies were full and the faces smiling, I had the chance to conduct one-on-one interviews with a random selection of students to delve deeper into topics such as mental and physical wellbeing as well as food. Conversations with staff following interviews reinforced our belief that our inclusion would provide valuable feedback into changes that could be made immediately but also for future UTB adventurers.
UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland (CHO) Primary Care Clinic has partnered with the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) to bring families to nature for health. The result has been, in a word, magical. Through the generosity of the Regional Parks Foundation, a Nature Shuttle takes patients, their families, and accompanying clinic staff to a variety of East Bay Regional Parks on the first Saturday of each month. The first two trips have been to Healthy Parks Healthy People programming at Crab Cove Visitor Center at Crown Memorial State Beach on the Alameda Shoreline where we were greeted by a naturalist, participated in guided activities exploring the outdoors, and have enjoyed a meal together.
One family was recruited to the Nature Shuttle during a busy clinic morning when a single mother and two toddlers had come in for vaccines and asthma. During the course of the visit, the doctor learned that the family was struggling with housing. Among other more urgent topics, the provider was able to suggest this specific nature activity as a way to relax and recuperate. Once at the tide pools, with her boots covered in mud, this mother said: “This is my last pair of shoes.” She laughed and said that she had to wait until next month to have enough funds to buy a replacement pair, but that it was worth it.
We are a Federally Qualified Health Center, so a large portion of our patients live below the poverty line. Many lack basic resources such as food, house stability, transportation and child care. Poverty has profound effects on health. Over the course of life, the increased health risks associated with poverty have a cumulative impact of 14 years of difference in life expectancy. It also happens that people with the lowest resources, highest health needs, are often those with the least access to nature.
We look to nature to help our patients become resilient. We believe nature has the potential to heal because it buffers stress. When people have trees and vegetation around them, they have lower blood pressure, better emotional control, and improved attention and cognition. In larger population studies, green environments reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and increase the sense of well-being and longevity. Children living in more green environments have been shown to have more resilience against stressful life events such as family strife, divorce, and bullying. Associations with improved mental health and access to nature are even more profound for people living in poverty.
We also look to nature to help families spend quality time with each other. The best conditions to reduce childhood stress are those where young people can feel safe and connected to others and to the world around them; spending time with a loving adults builds resilience in children. Opportunities for quality time increase when families are outdoors. We have observed many distraction-free moments of quiet, tenderness, and laughter between parents, grandparents, and siblings in nature.
We refer patients to the nature shuttle to increase physical activity, but also to help with stress relief and social isolation.
I want to stay here forever
“I want to stay here forever,” said an 11-year-old girl at the end of one of our trips. Her exclamation surprised us as she had been completely silent through out the excursion. For the most part, she helped her parents care for three younger siblings, quietly accompanying them around the tide pools, pond and the Crab Cove Visitor Center. She maintained a vigorous grasp on an adult’s hand as we followed a naturalist out into the muddy tide pools to search for crabs, worms and bat rays. Her sequined pink sneakers were covered in mud, and after a few minutes she turned around and quietly went back to the shore.
Partnering with children such as this young girl and families to get outdoors has taught us not to make assumptions about how children feel about or experience nature. One young boy jumped into the dirt almost head first, elated, running back and forth to the group to announce his latest discovery such as Mermaid’s Hair Seaweed. One family group spanned three generations, including a teenager wearing headphones. Despite this teen’s cool demeanor, she was just as engaged as her elders when we saw baby ducks. Another boy separated from the group; staying on shore. When we returned from the tide pools we discovered that he had been completely engrossed in finding crabs of different sizes. Filled with pride, he held up his hand which was filled with several little crabs. The toddlers in the group often struggle to sit still, but come to life when allowed simply to run.
Fun looks different depending on a child’s developmental stage. Young children ages zero to five learn, explore, engage and get active through play. Play is best when spontaneous and self directed. Natural environments that are enriched – that is, with natural elements such as sticks, rocks, and streams – foster healthy development and invite young children to explore while gaining physical skills and coordination. With the little ones, we are often reassuring and encourage parents to find a safe outdoor space and to give their preschooler unstructured time to discover and play. Elementary aged children, on the other hand, enjoy being outside with their parents or friends. To engage an adolescent, it is important to listen to her ideas on where to go and what to do in the outdoors.
Getting kids to nature is not always easy on the adults
The parents on our trips work hard to give their children this opportunity. A half-day excursion into the outdoors takes time, access to nature, and money for supplies, meals, transportation, and childcare. For many people these are formidable challenges. The shuttle leaves from our clinic on the first Saturday of each month. Getting to our clinic poses it’s own challenges: one couple with four children had taken three buses to get there and were running to get to our clinic, as one of their buses was delayed. One grandmother had hailed a taxi when her connecting bus failed to show up. Another mother arrived early so her children could take a nap and catch up on sleep before the trip. Another family of four children had spent two hours on a bus to get to our shuttle. We are humbled by our families’ determination to explore with us.
But, as is the magic of nature, the barriers between families fall when we are outdoors. Families and staff help each other out. On the bus ride over, several of the mothers traded information on housing options. A naturalist held one mother’s toddler for much of the day so she could tend to another child. The formalities between doctor and patients also drop; one doctor ran and ran with a two year old across a grassy lawn until they both sat down, smiling, and finally tired. The physicians had the opportunity to talk with families in a way that they would never have the opportunity to do otherwise. As social isolation is a true public health issue, the potential for community building in these trips is profound.
When we say nature, we mean community
What is it exactly about being outdoors that heals us and heals children? Science tells us the health benefits of nature include physical activity, stress relief, and social contact. Our experience tells us nature is about having fun with friends, family, and community. Being in nature is also about expanding our definition of community. For a child, attaching to the place where they live, and to the plants and animals that share this space with them also has the potential to help them feel connected. Reducing stress and being connected to loving adult and community helps kids become resilient.
Parks remain an invaluable resource for free and local opportunities to experience nature. Thank you, East Bay Regional Park District for being an amazing collaborator and for caring for our parks. Thank you to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital for believing in nature. Thank you to parents and caregivers for exploring. Thank you to all the naturalists, environmental educators, and guardians of our nation’s natural resources. You are public health in action.
We would like to recognize Carol Johnson, Elizabeth Carmody, Sharon Nelson-Embry, Yogi Francis, Pat Chase, Kelley Meade, Christine Schudel, Kelvin Dunn, Curtis Chan, and Kristin Wheeler for helping to create this vision.
About the Authors
Dr. Dayna Long is a staff pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland (CHO) where she co-directs the Family Information and Navigation Desk (FIND). She has been a dedicated Nature Champion at CHO and currently collaborates with EBRPD to integrate nature into clinical care in a program called FIND Nature! Dr. Long also serves as Medical Director for the Asthma Clinic where she and her team run an annual camp for children with asthma to spend a week in nature called "Camp Breath Easy."
Dr. Nooshin Razani is a pediatrician practicing at the Silva Clinic in Hayward and UCSF Benioff CHO. She was trained as a "Nature Champion" by the National Environmental Education Foundation in 2010 and serves as the lead medical Senior Fellow to the Institute at the Golden Gate. She is thrilled at this opportunity to share her love for nature with families through a collaboration with the FIND Nature! team at Children's Hospital Oakland and EBRPD.
Photos by Nooshin Razani and Elizabeth Carmody
“Change is the only constant in life.”
It’s an old saying that rings true for organizations as well as people.
Here at the Institute at the Golden Gate, we have been ringing in the changes with new colleagues Ruth Pimentel, Hector Zaragoza and Emilie Wolfson, a new report on effective climate education, and wonderful news from our Healthy Parks, Healthy People program.
As we continue to expand our impact and our team, we realized it was time to change up our work space, too. Thanks to the phenomenal organizational skills of our Operations and Outreach Manager, Honoré Pedigo, we have reconfigured our offices to accommodate our growing team of almost a dozen people here at Fort Baker. With nice new carpets and a new layout, we're ready to welcome any visitor or VIP! Click here to learn more about our talented team!
Last November, over 140 professionals representing parks and public lands, education, communication, academia, and advocacy came together to explore ways that we can engage new audiences and move people to take action on climate change at our Parks: The New Climate Classroom conference.
With a broad range of experience in the room, the conversation touched on a variety of best practices, case studies, and current research around designing education programs that empower, rather than overwhelm, audiences. Following the conference we heard from many of the participants that while the breadth and depth of the content was thought provoking and inspiring, at times it was also challenging to see the direct link between such a broad range of concepts and the on the ground work of educators and communicators.
To address this challenge and to make the main concepts from the conference available to all, the Institute is pleased to announce the publication of our latest report Insights for Climate Change Communication & Education. This report captures the main themes, lessons, and resources that emerged from Parks: The New Climate Classroom. We hope that this newest report will be a useful tool for our partners and beyond as they continue to innovate and design effective, impactful climate change communication and education programs.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this report and encourage you to share your experiences in designing and implementing climate change programs. Have you experimented with any of the practices from the conference? Do you have your own strategies that you would recommend? Feel free to share your thoughts below or contact with us via email, Facebook, or Twitter – use #teachclimate to connect!
Additionally a big thank you goes from the Institute team to all who participated in Parks: The New Climate Classroom. In particular, we want to recognize Julia Townsend, who not only shared her own experiences with those of us at the conference but who also joined our team to author this report.
Parks exist to enhance and add value to our lives. From the economic boost they give to cities to the social interactions they help facilitate, we may sometimes take the uncounted benefits of parks for granted.
The Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area (HPHP: Bay Area) initiative positions parks as health resources for the whole family—especially those in the highest health need communities. This movement is engaging and creating a whole new group of lifelong park users who will help ensure a future for our parks and public lands for generations to come, while improving their own health at the same time.
In the last year alone, over 35 park sites throughout the Bay Area have offered Healthy Parks, Healthy People programming on the first Saturday of every month—engaging hundreds of new park users. Parks and health agencies are working together to guarantee that park facilities and programs encourage physical activity, foster social connections, and extend a warm welcome to new visitors.
Park and healthcare providers hope that this regional initiative can be a catalyst for broad policy change that advances the adoption of measurable recreational models to support the delivery of healthcare to improve the physical and mental health of our population. In the next year we hope to reach an even wider audience and begin to create lifelong park users who will improve the health of our communities and our planet.
The next time you find yourself overwhelmed by work or stressed out from the daily to-do’s, make the time to go for a walk in your park. We guarantee you'll feel better once you do. The HPHP: Bay Area collaborative is continuing to welcome new and returning park users each month and we hope to see you out there soon. For more information on the collaborative and to find a program near you click here.
See you in the parks!
I highly recommend working as a research fellow for the Institute at the Golden Gate. So far, staff members have stumped Hector and me with insider non-profit lingo, given us popsicles, and introduced us to what seems like every person in the Bay Area who thinks about parks and open space for a living. It’s a riot.
My research area is urban parks. Worldwide, the number of people living in cities is expected to swell rapidly in the next few decades, and that speedy growth will create or intensify a host of social problems—ones that parks can help address. Writing on this site last year, Stephanie Duncan pointed out that parks offer “mental, physical, and social health benefits while at the same time contributing directly to common goods such as air and water quality, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration.” The Institute’s health, food, and climate projects are already blazing related trails—my task is to narrow in on the special challenges of parks in cities, and find out what unique role they can play.
The Institute’s template for change always begins with finding successful innovators, so I’ll be collecting smash-hit stories from around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and its home city of San Francisco, as well as other major urban parks. In particular, I’ll investigate how parks can make themselves relevant to a wider swath of the ethnically and economically diverse communities that gather in big cities. Happily, the Institute already has an inspiring example or two in its network, so I’m excited to document and share their work.
Here’s to more popsicles, less lingo, and a park for every urban need.
As the Fellow for the Health program at the Institute at the Golden Gate, I am excited to contribute to both the Youth Wellness and the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area initiatives. My main focus will be the collaboration between the Institute and the Crissy Field Center. In essence, we hope to help Crissy Field Center program participants see a holistic connection between personal health and environmental health. As part of a grant from the Gold Foundation, we will work with the Center’s middle-school program, Urban Trail Blazers, to evaluate current activities as well as integrate new ones surrounding the following three categories: Healthy and Sustainable Food, Physical and Active Living, and Mental Wellbeing. I will be joining the students in activities to assess their knowledge, motivations, and barriers towards these topics, in the hopes of encouraging positive and healthy behavior changes.
Since the Institute is an organization that convenes change makers and shares best practices, I will also draw on lessons learned from the Crissy Field Center collaboration to develop a Youth Wellness Toolkit. Cross-sector educators and community organizations interested in exploring these topics can use this toolkit to implement best practice into their own programs. I will also be providing support to the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative. The Institute is currently working with over 40 park, health, and community organizations in all nine Bay Area counties to improve the health and wellbeing of our high health need residents through regular use of parks. The program encourages families and individuals to take outings into local parks so they can enjoy the outdoors while getting in a bit of physical activity. The fresh air and critter sightings also do the mind some good!
On a personal note, my experience as an environmental educator has given me deeper insight into my natural surroundings and my relationship to it. I connect with that around me in different ways; on some days I am out mountain biking, rock climbing, or swimming in the ocean or playing a bit of football. Whatever the case may be, let’s go on out there!