Case Study

Human Health

Amigos de los Rios and the Emerald Necklace

Above:

Credit: Amigos de los Rios

Bringing nature back to neighborhoods is good for health

Location
Los Angeles County
Population
3,976,322
Climate

Mediterranean

Demographics

Hispanic or Latino, 47%
Non-Hispanic White, 21%
Asian,13%
Black or African American, 8%
Two or More Races, 4%
American Indian, <1% Below poverty level, 26.9%

Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. was not only the nation’s pioneer landscape architect. He was an outspoken egalitarian who believed that green space should be part of everyone’s life – not just the wealthy.  Even a century and a half ago, his vision of the “emerald necklace” – connecting nature with communities both poor and rich – was rooted in the healing power of trees and green open space.The enjoyment of [nature] employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”

Olmsted’s vision, first applied to Los Angeles by his sons in 1929, is close to becoming a reality.

The enjoyment of [nature] employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system. —  Frederick Law Olmstead, 1865

For the last fourteen years, an organization called Amigos de los Rios and its founder Claire Robinson have painstakingly drawn together a coalition comprising 62 communities, neighborhood groups, county and municipal governments, hospitals, universities, and non-profits like the Conservation Fund.

Los Amigos de los Rios pursues many goals.  But first among them is improving public health in communities long suffering from lack of green space – and consequently suffering high incidence of chronic respiratory and system disease.

The Emerald Necklace would change all that. The new, expanded plan provides, according to the Conservation Fund, “a comprehensive and strategic guide to creating a network of parks and public open spaces connected by river greenways and trails.”

When complete the Emerald Necklace Regional Park Network will unify a vast region of Southern California from the desert through the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, by linking more than 1,500 acres of parks and open spaces along an interconnected green-way around Rio Hondo, San Gabriel and the lower Los Angeles Rivers — serving 62 cities in the San Gabriel and Gateway Cities region with:

  • 7,500 plus acres of land
  • 68 miles of multi-benefit river trails
  • 50 miles of wash and creek trails
    Approximately 447 existing parks
  • Approximately 60 potential parks
    20,000 trees (estimated)

Portland State University research sampled nitrogen oxide levels in 14 different neighborhoods around the city.  The amount of tree cover had a profound impact on health:

  • Children ages 4-12 didn’t miss 7,380 asthma attacks;
  • 54 ER visits didn’t happen; and
  • People over 65 avoided 46 hospital stays for respiratory illness.

 

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