Population Health

September 14, 2022

Pilot project promotes environmental justice through protection of urban green spaces

Image of urban greenspaceThe restoration and protection of urban green spaces can mitigate the harmful effects of climate change on human health. Kristin Hayman, first year graduate student at the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, and her team are awardees of a Population Health Initiative Tier 1 Pilot Grant that seeks to identify communities across the Puget Sound that would realize the greatest health benefits from green spaces in their communities.

“This project sits at the intersection of human health and the environment. More specifically, this project sits at the intersection of health and Natural Climate Solutions (NCS),” explained Hayman. “NCS are conservation, restoration and land management practices that help mitigate climate change by increasing carbon storage and/or decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigating climate change is, of course, a very positive outcome on its own. But how we drawdown the carbon can be as important as how much carbon we drawdown. When we mitigate climate change through forest protection and restoration, for example, we reap important co-benefits to human health.”

A wide variety of mental health metrics and health outcomes can be improved by nature contact. In some cases, these co-benefits match or outweigh the climate mitigation benefits achieved. However, these health co-benefits are often overlooked when natural resource managers, policymakers or others decide where to implement forest protection or restoration programs.

“Our work aims to provide a framework that natural resource managers and public health practitioners can use to consider both the carbon and health co-benefits as they strategically select where they will protect or restore forests and green spaces across the Puget Sound region,” said Hayman.

In order to identify which communities to prioritize in restoring and protecting green spaces, the team will evaluate estimates of exposure to green space, sensitivity to health outcomes and population size for each of the 900+ census tracts in the Puget Sound.

“Because we have limited capacity, funding, and other resources, we must prioritize where we’re going to protect or restore green spaces,” said Hayman. “As we prioritize, we ought to think about how we can co-maximize the carbon and health benefits of the intervention. To promote environmental justice and health equity, we also ought to consider who is benefitting from protection or restoration of green space.”

The research conducted through the Tier 1 pilot grant will allow Hayman’s team to develop a framework of prioritization for communities in the Puget Sound area. By working with public health practitioners and natural resource managers to identify communities in need of the health benefits from the protection and restoration of green spaces, other researchers will have a framework in the future that can be duplicated to determine how to co-maximize the health and carbon co-benefits of Natural Climate Solutions effectively and efficiently.