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Study shows parks improve mental health, decrease depression

When Philadelphia researchers transformed vacant lots into little parks, the people they surveyed reported a decrease in depression and an overall improvement in mental health.

Researchers in Philadelphia confirmed what park proponents in Denver say they've always known.

A study published by the Jama Network this week showed that when vacant lots were converted into green spaces, 40.5 percent of people surveyed who live nearby said they felt less depressed, and 62.8 percent said their mental health improved.

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"It really confirmed what we see on a daily basis with the communities we work with," said Cindy Change, the executive director of Groundwork Colorado.

Chang partners with low-income communities to promote health and well-being, which often means helping neighborhoods put green spaces nearby.

“Green spaces have historically been a privilege in a neighborhood so we’re just trying to turn that around by making sure every neighborhood gets the green space they deserve," she said.

Chang often partners with Emily Patterson, the Parks for People program director for the Colorado Trust for Public Land.

Their goal is to put a quality park within a ten-minute walk of everyone in the Denver metro area.

“It’s not just a park that’s close to you, it’s that the park is a quality park and it’s activated and people feel safe in it," said Patterson.

Patterson uses a map of the Denver area to show where green infrastructure is needed, and it is often the lower income neighborhoods that have less quality green space.

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The Philadelphia researchers found that people in neighborhoods below the poverty line experienced even more of a decrease in depression around the spaces they turned into parks.

"It really validates a lot of our thinking at the trust for public land," said Patterson. We really feel strongly that parks make people's lives better."