Gilbert F. White Lecture Series: Jennifer Wolch, 2017Board on Earth Sciences and Resources
October 5, 2017
Location: The Marian Koshland Science Museum Washington DC
Parks and open space systems support public health. Proximity to parks stimulates physical activity, helping to protect residents from chronic health challenges, especially diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer. Research on unequal access to parks and open space reveals that in many cities, low-income residents and communities of color have disproportionately poor access to these environmental assets, intensifying health inequities that are already stark. Together, findings from public health and environmental justice research argue for city planning strategies that ensure fair access to parks and opportunities for physical activity and to natural open spaces.
At the same time, efforts to build more sustainable and resilient cities call for green infrastructure, along with restoration of riparian corridors, wetlands, and urban forests, and additional green cover. Such green infrastructure could provide much-needed parks and open spaces. However, natural, green infrastructure may also make neighborhoods more attractive, triggering gentrification, displacement, and other regressive impacts. Planners and policy makers need to grapple with this set of complex social, economic, and environmental issues. Cities must aggressively fight to protect housing affordability while designing parks and green infrastructures in poor neighborhoods and communities of color that are "just green enough" to protect public health, enhance quality of life, and protect vulnerable residents from sea level rise.
Jennifer Wolch is William W. Wurster Dean and Professor of City & Regional Planning in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. Her past research focused on homeless and poverty, state-nonprofit sector relations, and animal geographies. Dr. Wolch's most recent research focuses on sustainable urbanism, parks, public health, and environmental justice. Dr. Wolch has published over 140 scholarly articles and book chapters. For her research, Dr. Wolch received an Association of American Geographers Distinguished Scholarship Award, Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences Fellowship, among other awards for excellence in planning practice.