Health & Wellness

As summer approaches, here's how public spaces can improve well-being

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A new study from nonprofit Trust for Public Land found U.S. cities with well-cared for parks have more socially-connected residents.

The Trust analyzed park systems in the 100 most populous cities in the United States, with Chicago ranking 10th in the nation.

“If you are in a city that has well maintained parks, which Chicago is one of them, there's a 26% increase in the likelihood of people of different socioeconomic and income levels to mix with each other, which is obviously really important for our like social fabric," CEO Joanna Frank.

Frank is the president and CEO of the Center for Active Design, which translates public health research to help real estate firms design public spaces for optimal health.

“The evidence base that we work with, which is global, is more than 7,000 research studies. So we're not talking about a little bit of research here. It is 100 years of research,” Frank said.

Frank said the evidence is clear – living near a well-maintained park not only increases your physical activity, but can also have a big impact on fighting social isolation.

“That's really important because social isolation has the same impact on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” Frank said. “So just so that folks really understand that being lonely and being isolated, doesn't just, you know, kind of effect, obviously, it affects your mental health in the short term, but it's really actually having that tangible and very significant impact on overall life expectancy.”

Frank said for residents to feel a sense of ownership or belonging to a park, they have to live within a 10-minute walk.

Trevona Banks and her husband live within a five-minute walk to the Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan, and they visit often.

“It’s absolutely a benefit staying close to the lake. The scenery is beautiful. The people are friendly,” Banks said.

Regina Walls agrees that living near a park has benefits for your mental health.

“I definitely do, yeah I enjoy just getting out in nature period. To have the kids get out to have them be more active and they meet friends and everything,” Walls said.

While she lives in Calumet City, it’s a Memorial Day tradition to spend the day with her family at the beach near Lake Michigan.

Her granddaughter, Aniyah, 7, is excited for summertime.

“I like going to the park and going on the slides,” Aniyah said.

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