Thank you to Mary Rose Navarro, Natural Areas Grants Coordinator at Metro, for her post today!
At Metro we have our value statement posted on our website, calendars and flyers reminding us that our goal is to inspire, engage, teach and invite people to preserve and enhance the quality of life and the environment for current and future generations. One way we are striving to achieve this is by protecting and restoring the region’s natural resources. Here in the Portland metropolitan area we are fortunate to be surrounded by an exceptional natural landscape nationally known for the quality of the water, the air and the abundance of outdoor recreation. This natural inheritance offers those of us who live here a sense of identity and an opportunity to easily find relief from our daily struggles. But just as there are disparities in our health care system, there are disparities in who is enjoying the benefits of nature.
There is increasing evidence supporting the notion that contact with nature promotes health and well-being. Of course, few of us find this research particularly surprising. It hasn’t been that many generations since our direct engagement with the natural world was integral to our survival. In fact, some believe humans are not fully adapted to an urban existence and this lack of adaptation could be the cause of much of the chronic disease we are seeing. Yet people’s connection to nature and the health of the built environment in which we move through our daily lives have yet to be elevated in health equity strategies. Perhaps that’s because further research is needed to understand the actual health benefits people derive from nature and how those benefits can contribute to reducing costs of health care. Perhaps there are cultural questions that need to be explored to better understand why populations experiencing the greatest health challenges are less likely to take advantage of the incredible system of parks and greenways this region offers.
In recent years Metro has been exploring these possibilities. Through the Nature in Neighborhoods grant programs we have funded projects in nature-deficient areas that enhance people’s connection to the natural world while helping achieve other critical outcomes such as economic development, local jobs and workforce development, affordable housing and transportation options. We are beginning to fund not only conservation organizations, but also organizations such as Adelante Mujeres that directly serve low-income communities of color and other at-risk populations. Metro also awarded the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Clinic a grant to convert an old alleyway into a green gathering place – a terrific example of intertwining nature and health.
Metro’s natural areas program is full of opportunities. We engage 2,500 volunteers each year to help care for 16,000 acres of parks and natural areas, and we serve 14,000 people with conservation education programs. In addition, nearly 1 million people visit Metro’s parks every year. How can we ensure that these opportunities are used to address our region’s health equity crisis? I invite you to get in touch as we continue the conversation.