Spending time in nature has measurable benefits to people both emotionally and physically. That’s the driving tenet behind the work being done as part of what is currently called the “New Haven Nature & Health Initiative.” This working group represents a collaboration with Yale University, local healthcare professionals, and New Haven-based nonprofit organizations that understand the therapeutic benefits of spending time in nature. They are deeply invested in making green spaces in New Haven inviting, safe, and equally accessible for city residents.
Still in early stages, one of the key goals of this initiative focuses on creating a knowledge platform, where information, ideas, and resources can be shared with interested parties, such as residents, clinicians, land managers, policymakers and academics. “We’re trying to bring together people from various backgrounds and experiences to diversify perspectives, build collaborations, share resources, and promote innovative thinking towards nature-based health programming,” says Amber Garrard, Senior Manager at the Yale Office of Sustainability.
Another goal is to create nature-based programs and tools for the network they are building, most specifically for residential and healthcare communities. This may include maps to existing greenspaces, educational materials about the benefits of time in nature and information on how to do so safely, especially given COVID guidelines that could still be in place.
Park prescriptions is another focus area for the initiative. Amanda DeCew (MSN/MPH '12), an advanced practice registered nurse in pediatrics at Fair Haven Community Health Care in New Haven and a member of the initiative’s working group, was recently featured in an article where she talked about using the Park Rx America platform—a system that allows medical providers to prescribe outdoor activities to patients— after hearing about it on a podcast. She’s seen the benefits of these prescriptions at work in her practice.
Fellow working group member, pediatrician, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine Leslie Sude also believes in the value of prescribing outdoor activities. “When nature-based activities are prescribed by a healthcare provider, there is a level of importance placed on filling it—patients are more likely to follow through,” says Sude. “This has become even more critical given the pandemic, when many people are afraid to go outside in fear of contracting COVID.”
Streamlining the digital park prescription platform with traditional medical records is also a key outcome of this effort. “The ability to tie this to our current record system would make the process much faster…and simpler. In turn, it would make the service more appealing for other healthcare providers to use with their patients,” says Sude.
“We’re trying to bring together people from various backgrounds and experiences to diversify perspectives, build collaborations, share resources, and promote innovative thinking towards nature-based health programming."
-Amber Garrard, Senior Manager at the Yale Office of Sustainability
The New Haven Nature & Health Initiative, in collaboration with the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, is hosting a webinar called “Getting a Nature Fix” – a conversation with author Florence Williams, who wrote a book after researching the science behind nature's positive effects on the brain. You can learn more about the event happening on March 18th and register here.
The working group has launched a site for this initiative and will add to it as they continue to meet, gather insights, and garner local support. You can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions and resources for consideration.