Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Study: Green space puts city dwellers in their happy place

City Hall Lawn

Andres Aguila/KPCC

City-dwellers with access to green space are happier, according to a new study out of the U.K. Across L.A., city officials must be increasingly creative in finding and constructing open space.

Green space can be a scarce commodity in Los Angeles—and that might have long term effects on your overall happiness and well-being.

A new study out of the U.K. collected data from more than 10,000 people over the course of 18 years. Information was self-reported and researchers concluded that people who live in urban areas with larger amounts of green space have "significantly lower mental distress" and higher life satisfaction. 

And these people weren't just a little bit happier, concluded researchers with the European Centre for Environment and Human Health. 

"In comparative terms, living in an area with higher levels of green space was associated with improvements in our well-being indicators roughly equal to a third of that gained from being married, or a tenth as large as being employed vs. unemployed," said the study.

In Los Angeles, parks make up about 14 percent of the landscape—but much of this greenery is concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods or on mountain tops. 

In South L.A., green space is often sparse, and community members and city officials must be extremely creative with space—turning parking lots and abandoned land into parks.

In February, city officials—in partnership with Chase Bank—broke ground on Wall Street Park, a green space on a foreclosed plot of land. At the event, area councilwoman Jan Perry said there is a great need and want for less blight and more greenery in "urban communities" throughout Los Angeles.

She added that in areas that are "historically park-poor," it's up to the city to help create more opportunities for outdoor activities.

In recent years in South L.A., that effort has led to a new wetlands area and walking path on what used to be an MTA bus yard. 

According to the European Centre study: 

"Urbanisation is considered a potential threat to mental health and well-being and although effects at the individual level are small, this study demonstrates that the potential benefit at a population level should be an important consideration in policies aiming to protect and promote urban green spaces for well-being."

This general concept is referenced in Mayor Villaraigosa's 50 Parks Initiative, which aims to install parks in L.A. communities where parks are few and far between.

In addition to mental health, more parks can mean better overall health in the community.

"Green space provides substantial benefits to human health in terms of recreation/increased physical activity/reduced risk of obesity and healthcare/stress reduction," according to L.A.'s Department of Recreation and Parks. 

And that's something South L.A. could use. Recent statistics from the L.A. County Department of Public Health show that almost 33 percent of adults in South L.A. are obese; that's the second highest rate in the county.

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