Don’t get me wrong. I love parks. When my kids were young, we walked (or, occasionally drove) to them to enjoy the gorgeous views, the trees, the grass (and, sometimes the play equipment). I still ride my bike along the Potomac River, the C&O Canal, the O&D Trail enjoying the view as I hustle along.
But, this new article clearly lost sight of the difference between correlation and causation. Drs. O. Kardan and M. Berman (both from U Chicago), B. Misic (Indiana U L. Palmer (Adelaide Australia) and F. Moola, T. Paus, P. Gozdyra, (all from various Toronto institutions) published a study they effected in Toronto. The article, Neighborhood greenspace and health in a large urban center, was published in Scientific Reports.
The psychologists announced that urban areas filled with trees promote cognitive and psychological benefits to the residents. They chose Toronto because it has a well-documented variety of trees (530K) and correlated (yes, that’s what they did) the geographical data with the health of some 30,000 Toronto residents. Oh- and they also employed the prevalence of cancer, diabetes, mental health- and the self-professed analyses of one’s health.
The authors aver that “having 10 more trees in a city block, on average, improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being 7 years younger”. And, nce there were 11 trees, it meant the citizens received a benefit “comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger.”
Let’s consider these “findings”. Health perception- that’s how one thinks about their own health conditions. And, most of us would agree that we do feel better when we find ourselves in a nicer environment. But, nicer environments normally are found when folks live in wealthier places- the places where cities, towns, and counties can afford to maintain trees, parks, and other nice amenities. Folks who are poorer generally don’t get the chance to live in such environments.
Yes, I know that trees can improve urban air quality. After all, they can reduce particulates, ozone levels, and other problem matters found in the air. But, I doubt those true scientific changes contribute much to the findings of this study.
This study could have tremendous ramifications, now that SCOTUS (the Supreme Court) has ruled that racially segregated, low income housing communities are illegal. We can’t corral the poor in depressing Section 8 ghettoes, gloating that we’ve helped them find adequate housing. In bleak, treeless tracts, I might add.
And, I know that Canada (this was a study about Toronto) has universal health care, which means everyone should have access to doctors and treatments. Yet, we also know- whether one lives in Canada, Europe, or the US- that those with lower incomes and lower educational levels visit their health professionals much less frequently than do middle and high income folks.
So, despite this “scientific” study, there is NO proof that having trees in one’s neighborhood makes one healthier. But, it is true the richer we are, the more likely we can afford to take care of our health. Which would generally make us feel better. After all, being in a nice park does reduce our stress levels. Which is why we need to make more parks available for our poorer citizens.
But, can we please stop using correlations that really have more to do with regional wealth than individual health factors to provide conclusions?