All Posts (89)

  • San Francisco is a city of innovation. With a world class public health system and an equally impressive park system, it’s fitting that the two would work together to improve the health and well-being of its residents. Since 2012 the Institute has partnered with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks to bring the idea of Park Prescriptions to reality – and now to scale.

    Despite having close to 6,000 acres of parkland within the city limits current San Franciscans, like most Americans, are now far more sedentary and disconnected from the land than previous generations. We are feeling the burden not only in our bodies but in our pocket books and communities. There is a rigorous body of evidence to prove that access to and time spent in nature improves our physical and mental well-being. But don’t just take the leading scientists and researcher’s word for it – take a stroll through a forest, swap out your treadmill for a local park, or simply take a step outside and breathe in deeply.

    Last week San Francisco was once again put on the map for innovation. A joint training of 200 park and health professionals helped launch and cement Park Prescriptions as more than just a good idea. The groundbreaking training included welcome speeches from the leaders of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Department of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health.

    The role of the Institute was to help support, convene, and facilitate the day. A job that is often filled with spreadsheets, late night copy runs, and making a lot of last minute changes seem effortless. We’ve taken on this role to make it easier for our partners and champions to do what it is they are great at – to educate, inspire, and empower park and health professionals to work together, learn together, and ultimately make San Francisco a better place to call home.

    It didn’t take long for me to forget about those late night copy runs and fifteen page spreadsheets when our leaders in parks and health took to the podium. I expected many words of congratulations and praise to be said throughout the day but what I didn’t expect was to hear such personal and authentic stories. Each speaker and trainer shared their connection to the outdoors; to the role nature had played in healing themselves and their loved ones and how those experiences have deepened their commitment to this movement.

    The passion running through that room of public health providers and park professionals last week made all of the hard work worth it. I’m more confident than ever that we not only know enough to act now but that we will act now. Improving the health of our most vulnerable populations, strengthening ties in the community, and lowering healthcare costs doesn’t require a medical breakthrough. It’s time we all tap into those positive outdoor memories, roll up our sleeves and get to work together. San Francisco may be the first city to take Park Prescriptions to scale but I guarantee it won’t be the last.

    Special thanks to Dr. Nooshin Razani, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland; Dr. Curtis Chan, San Francisco Department of Public Health; Howard Levitt, Golden Gate National Recreation Area; and Jim Wheeler, San Francisco Recreation and Parks for their continued leadership and bringing this dream to reality.

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  • Building Climate Literacy in the Bay Area

    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.

    Bay Area environmental educators meeting at the EcoCenter at Heron's Head Park to discuss their work on climate change

    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!

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  • Urban

    Park Programs Designed for Community Needs

    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.

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  • Reconnecting Youth to Health and Wellness

    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.

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  • Urban

    Race and the Great Outdoors

    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.

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  • Physical Activity Through Fun

    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.

    Children tend to engage in “active play” outdoors when they

    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.


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  • 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!

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  • 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.  


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  • Healing by Being Together in Nature


    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.

    Nature prescriptions

    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.

    Children's Hospital Oakland Health Educator Christine Schudel, Dr. Razani, Dr. Long, and Dr. Chase gather with families at Crab Cove East Bay Regional Park.

    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

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  • 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.

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  • 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!

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  • San Francisco took a huge stride forward last month by committing to fully adopting Park Prescriptions throughout their public health system. The estimated 30% of San Franciscans who use some form of public health service will be "prescribed" time outside in one of the city’s local, national, or state parks. The program is being implemented by the Department of Public Health in partnership with San Francisco Recreation and Parks and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and represents the first time in the world that an entire city has taken steps to fully implement Park Prescriptions.

    Thanks to the leadership of San Francisco’s park agencies, patients are able to fill their prescription at one of the specially designed Healthy Parks, Healthy People programs. Patients are met by a park staff member and led on an introductory walk to get them familiar with the features of the park while getting physically active and improving their overall wellbeing.

    The first Park Prescription program in San Francisco was piloted at the Southeast Health Center in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. The Kaiser Permanente funded pilot was led by the Institute and championed in clinic by Dr. Nooshin Razani and Dr. Jamal Harris. The lessons learned from this pilot and many others in the Bay Area and across the country will help guide the implementation and long-term plan for the program throughout San Francisco.

    See you in the parks...Doctor's orders!

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  • There is growing consensus that nature has many health benefits, from increased physical activity to mental, emotional, and community health benefits. At the Institute we have brought this concept to implementation on a local, regional, and national scale. Recently our local Park Prescriptions pilot in the Bayview Hunters Point community in San Francisco was highlighted in the National Parks Magazine, produced quarterly by the National Parks Conservation Association. The article, A Prescription For Nature, was written by Dr. Daphne Miller - a partner and early advocate of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement. 

    The pilot program has made significant strides since its inception in summer 2012. This opportunity, funded by a Community Benefit grant from Kaiser Permanente, allowed us to take lessons learned and existing promising practices from around the country and adapt them to fit the unique needs of the Bayview Hunters Point community. After successfully training the staff of the Southeast Health Center and implementing park prescriptions in the clinic we will be continuing to elevate the important message of spending time outside to improve your health by training community leaders this summer. The community docents will have the knowledge and resources to be ambassadors for the parks and will help bring new audiences to participate in Healthy Parks, Healthy People programs in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.

    Stay tuned for stories and images from this summer's community docent program. Until then, see you in the parks!

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  • Finding Inspiration from Youth Leaders

    Last Wednesday, the Institute team got an inspiring look at the Project WISE program, a partnership between the Crissy Field Center, the Urban Watershed Project, and Galileo Academy of Science and Technology that gets high school students out of the classroom and, literally, into the field. Throughout the school year, students from two environmental science classes at Galileo spend one afternoon a week conducting field studies around the Presidio and beyond.

    The program culminates in a series of evening presentations, where the youth strut their stuff. They showed us what they’ve learned about the scientific process, how science can impact our communities and inform our behaviors, how people are impacting and impacted by our environment, and what we can all do to become more responsible environmental and community stewards. It was an evening full of inspiring presentations and impressive youth.

    The individual projects ranged from looking at plastics in our beaches and oceans to bacteria in our burgers to smoothies made from a bicycle powered blender. The students picked issues that were near and dear to their hearts and communities, designed compelling experiments, and presented not only the results but also what they tell us about how we can shift our behaviors to better serve the environment and ourselves.

    The Institute team wants to congratulate the youth presenters on this amazing and inspiring evening and to extend a shout out to the partners that made this happen. Because of the hard work of the students, partners, and their amazing success, next year the program will expand to 120 students – doubling the number of participants from this year. We can’t wait to see this program continue to grow and flourish!

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  • A Dose of Nature for a Happier, Healthier Life

    If you were to perform a simple online search using the key words "mental health benefits of nature" you would be met with over 62 million hits, many of them news articles touting the endless benefits that green space has on our mental wellbeing. Additionally you can now find an abundance of resources from around the world focused on improving the mental health of of youth, refugees, veterans, and urbanites.

    Mental wellbeing is quickly becoming a major public health issue. In 2011 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the use of antidepressants in the United States had increased nearly 400% in the last two decades alone. As the world becomes a more urbanized and complex place, we have to start asking ourselves just how important our green spaces are to us.

    Just last week The Guardian published an article titled "Why green is good for you" and pointed to a study that tracked the mental health of a 1,000 people - half had moved to an area with higher rates of green space and half who moved to an area with less green space. As predicted the group who moved to an area with more abundant green spaces had an immediate improvement in their mental health. The most striking outcome was the improvement in mental health that was still present three years later.

    It's been ten years since the term "nature deficit disorder" has entered our vocabulary. From forest bathing in Japan, to refugee walking programs in Australia, to the rise of park prescription programs throughout the United States, it's clear that we're making strides to improve the health and wellbeing of our population.

    You don't need to plan your retirement to a cabin in the woods just yet to reap the mental benefits of nature. Taking the path that winds through the park on your way to school, ditching your couch for the shade of a tree to read the newspaper, or playing on the local playground with your kids are all good ways to become happier, and thus feel better. It doesn't take a lot but it does take a little.

    We'll see you in the parks.

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  • Raise a Glass to 2013!

    The past year has been a remarkable one for the Institute at the Golden Gate. We started 2013 with a list of ambitious goals focused on one key mission: making parks and public lands part of the solution to some of society’s biggest challenges. We’re thrilled to report that 2013 was probably our most successful year yet! Here are some of the highlights.

    Our food program marked a milestone achievement with the announcement by the National Park Service in June that it was adopting new food policies that will affect tens of millions of meals served in national parks each year. This exciting new development was the culmination of three years of work by the Institute to inspire and help co-design a new food policy for parks across the country. More widely, it shows how parks and public lands can be part of the wider movement toward a more sustainable food system.

    In 2013, the Institute also co-hosted the first national summit on sustainable food service with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, convening food industry leaders from parks, hospitals, schools, retail outlets, and museums to design collaborative sustainable food solutions at scale. Galvanized by these successes, we’re now planning the next stage of our food work, including projects regionally and nationally, as well as initiatives right here in the Bay Area. 

    Over the past year, the Institute's Health program has worked to strengthen the role that parks and public lands can play in preventive healthcare. Locally, health and park agencies united to provide over 100 culturally relevant, introductory, and free programs in dozens of parks in all nine counties of the Bay Area. 

    At the national level, the Institute co-hosted a workshop in Houston, Texas, to strengthen and scale-up the park prescriptions movement. Globally, we are participating in an international Healthy Parks Healthy People task force to elevate the role parks and public lands play in making our populations healthier. With support from donors like Kaiser Permanente and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the pilot programs we’re testing in our own backyard—such as the Bayview Hunters Point park prescriptions program—are helping to create best practice guidelines that are now supporting activities across the United States and beyond.

    Meanwhile, our climate education program focused on the role parks can and should play in informing, educating, and empowering the public on critical challenges such as climate change. In May 2013, we released a well-received report that identified more than a dozen examples of innovative and high-impact educational programming in parks around the world.

    Following this publication, we hosted a dynamic conference in November, with more than 140 people from as far afield as Australia gathered in Sausalito, California, to brainstorm about the role our beloved parks can play in educating and empowering people on climate change. The event attracted experts and innovators not just from our country’s parks, but from many other sectors engaged in ground-breaking educational programs, including leaders from schools and universities, museums, the media, and Silicon Valley—as well as youth activists and well-known authors like Jonah Sachs and Mark Hertsgaard. With generous support from groups like the Ayrshire Foundation, we plan on taking our work to the next level in 2014. 

    Closer to home, the Institute continued its work welcoming environmental and government groups to hold their meetings at beautiful Fort Baker. By offering discounted bookings for overnight guests and meeting space in conjunction with Cavallo Point–the Lodge at the Golden Gate, the Institute helped more than 1,200 professionals hold their meetings in 2013 at this inspiring and affordable venue overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Some of the many environmental friends and colleagues that took advantage of this opportunity were the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Student Conservation Association, Institute for the Future, and WildAid.

    Fort Baker

    Building on the momentum of 2013, we’re already ramping up for an exhilarating and eventful 2014. Thank you for your continued support and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy New Year!

    Chris Spence
    Director, Institute at the Golden Gate

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  • Connecting at Cavallo Point

    The Institute was delighted to welcome the Oceans Conservancy, Envision Education, Conservation Studies Institute, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and more this fall as part of our Institute-rate bookings in partnership with Cavallo Point Lodge. Through this partnership, environmental groups can apply for discounted, over-night meeting rates for bookings between the months of November and April of each year.

    The Institute was pleased to welcome Envision Education back to Fort Baker in early December. IGG Director, Chris Spence, gave a few brief remarks to the group including appreciation for their work providing young people, especially those from underserved communities, with an education that prepares them for the complex and intertwined challenges of being responsible stewards of the planet and society – a truly noble goal.

    The Gordon and Betty Moore Science team generously invited the Institute team to hang out around Cavallo Point’s fire pit and shoot the breeze. Staff shared what the Institute has been up to in the last year as well as a brief history of Fort Baker. In turn, the Science team gave updates on the amazing things they have been up to including, but not limited to, 1)work on a thirty meter telescope that will allow scientists to see the farthest reaches of the universe, study light from the earliest known stars, and test the fundamental laws of physics; 2) earthquake early-warning research and where the next big quake will hit; and 3) researching the ongoing aquatic and marine life fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. It was a reinvigorating afternoon spent with admired colleagues.

    Conservation Studies Institute has met at Fort Baker twice so far this fall and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them back each time. The Institute is proud to call CSI friends and partner as we work together to keep the National Park Service a key player in the conservation world. This fall’s meetings included discussions on urban parks and the urban agenda.

    The above are just a sampling of some of the amazing groups that have taken advantage of our Institute rate. To learn how you can apply for this amazing deal and join the thousands of other professionals that have called Fort Baker home for their environmental meetings, check out our Convene page, or give us a call at (415) 561-3560.

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  • Institute Boosts Park Prescriptions Movement

    Park Prescriptions has grown out of a conceptual phase into a period of rapid implementation. To ensure the sustainability of the movement, the Institute at the Golden Gate recognized the need to solve the operational hurdles present in collaborations between parks and health entities—as well as the necessity to hone and measure the best delivery models currently in practice. The Institute began this process in September 2012 and recently hit a milestone by hosting a National Convening on Park Prescriptions in early October in Houston, Texas.

    The Institute and the National Recreation and Park Association—with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—convened more than a dozen leaders representing the parks and health sector to refine on-the-ground tactics for program development program delivery, measurement, and professional training around park prescriptions.

    Together, the partnering organizations are furthering the movement to elevate the initiative from a new idea to a best practice in preventive health. The goal of the National Park Prescriptions Initiative is to establish national standards, based on qualitative and quantitative evidence from programs across the country, to increase the quality of new and existing programs and support more accurate evaluation of program impacts. This time next year we hope to be disseminating a suite of resources to make it easier for diverse communities to implement a park prescriptions program of their own.

    Experts in the fields of health, parks, and recreation are committed to making individuals and communities healthier through regular use and enjoyment of parks and public lands. In the coming years health care providers will be able to easily prescribe time outside for patients of all backgrounds—and parks will continue to be seen as places for health and wellness across the country.

    See you in the parks!

    From Park E-ventures, November 2013

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  • Park Rx Goes National

    The idea that health care professionals could prescribe nature and outdoor activity has been around for several years, with "park prescriptions" now being pioneered by several organizations in various parts of the country.

    On Monday, October 7, representatives of some key organizations agreed to take things to the next level at the first ever "National Convening on Park Prescriptions". The event, which took place in Houston, Texas, was co-hosted by the Institute at the Golden Gate and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The meeting included leaders and park champions from across the country, such as the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), the "Walk With a Doc" group, Kids in Parks, and groups working on diabetes treatment and prevention, children's health and kinesiology. Other groups that played a critical role in the lead up to this meeting but were unable to attend due to the government shutdown included the National Park Service and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

    The event was a huge success and we will now be moving forward together as part of a growing national movement to prescribe parks and nature for people's mental and physical health. Watch this space for more news on this exciting movement in the coming weeks and months!

    Chris Spence

    Director, Institute at the Golden Gate


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  • It’s been an exciting year for the Institute’s Food Program! In June, the National Park Service (NPS) – in collaboration with the Institute - announced new guidelines promoting healthy and sustainable food options as a part of the national Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative. We are making exciting strides to ensure that when you visit a national park, you will get to hike to beautiful sights and also taste delicious, locally-sourced, sustainable bites.

    How is this transition to sustainable sourcing taking place? We have seen wonderful successes in select dining establishments already, so now we are taking on the challenge of assisting NPS concessioners across the country to make more environmentally-friendly, socially-conscious, and financially-responsible food sourcing decisions.  

    Our three-prong approach includes designing regional-based tools, establishing local connections, and highlighting best practices.

    Designing Regional-based Tools

    Selecting NPS concessions contracts involves multiple, standardized steps across the country, which are detailed in the Institute’s Food for the Parks report. To promote local, sustainable foods in accordance to the NPS food and beverage concessions proposal process, the Institute is developing a cost evaluation tool. The function of this tool will help to determine the local versus non-local price differentials for high demand food and beverage items in various regions of the country. This information will help concessioners shape significant financial sourcing decisions. A special focus will be given to items which grow locally in a region while opportunities to consider alternate menu options will be presented.

    Establishing Local Connections

    Because sustainable food systems strategy has its roots in local community development and environmental stewardship, the Institute is also providing real-time data on the availability of local and hyperlocal food and beverages. Utilizing information from our friends at Real Time Farms and USDA, parks concessioners will be able to identify, manage, and investigate cost differentials through potential relationships with local farmers, food hubs, and farmers markets. Participating in local food economies will ensure savings in energy expenditure, transportation costs, promote healthier farming practices, and result in higher quality, less-processed food and beverages for parks visitors.

    Highlighting Best Practices

    To supplement the regional cost evaluation tool and local sourcing information we are developing, the Institute will continue to develop and distribute educational materials highlighting the value of sourcing local and sustainable food and beverages. The Institute will design trainings on how to utilize cost evaluation tools and design resources for successful implementation.

    Through this approach, the Institute will continue to support the dynamic NPS Healthy Food Program and promote the environmental, economic, and social benefits of responsible sourcing. We look forward to updating you as our food work moves forward!

    Our featured blog writer, Namita M. Koppa, currently serves as the Institute's Food Program Consultant. With a background in public health, sustainable food systems, and geospatial analysis, she is passionate about finding holistic, creative, and cost-effective solutions to sustainability challenges. Raised by a mom and dad who love to travel, Namita has fond childhood memories of road-tripping to the nation's most beautiful sites via cargo van. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the world, being active, hearing peoples' stories, making craft beer ice creams, and cheering on the Duke University Blue Devils.

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