Central Park in New York City.

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FBW | April 16, 2020

Across the country and around the world, governments have grappled with how to contain the coronavirus pandemic. In some places, governors and mayors have ordered park closures to the consternation of people ordered to “stay at home.” We are providing excerpts from a number of recent articles that make the case for keeping these public spaces open during these trying times. As the crisis recedes, public officials need to adopt policies that are sustainable over the long-term, and opening parks is a logical first step.  

The outdoors, exercise, sunshine, and fresh air are all good for people’s immune systems and health, and not so great for viruses. There is a compelling link between exercise and a strong immune system. A lack of vitamin D, which our bodies synthesize when our skin is exposed to the sun, has long been associated with increased susceptibility to respiratory diseases. The outdoors and sunshine are such strong factors in fighting viral infections that a 2009 study of the extraordinary success of outdoor hospitals during the 1918 influenza epidemic suggested that during the next pandemic (I guess this one!) we should encourage “the public to spend as much time outdoors as possible,” as a public-health measure. — The Atlantic, April 7, 2020 by Zaynep Tufekci: “Keep the Parks Open – Public green spaces are good for the immune system and the mind–and they can be rationed to allow for social distancing.” 

If we’re going to make it through this crisis with our sanity intact, we can’t stop going outside. Sunshine and exercise aren’t just a natural anti-depressant, they’re known to help boost our immune systems, which is exactly what we need right now. — Philadelphia Inquirer, April 8, 2020 by Inga Saffron, Philadelphia officials stopped Rivers Casino from closing off its Delaware River trail, but that’s not enough.” 

Like a large percentage of Jersey City residents, we live in a multi-unit building with no yard. Even for those who do live in houses, a proper lawn is a rarity. Instead, we go to the park. And in these times, we rely on those green spaces more than ever. In the park, unlike on the sidewalk, you can easily practice social distancing. — Guest editorial in the Jersey Journal April 8, 2020 by Rasika W. Boice, “Closing Lincoln Park in Jersey City is a mistake.” 

Calling the decision to close state parks “wrong for public health and our State’s residents,” Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-29) is among the cadre of legislators that have encouraged Murphy to reverse the closures. Sharing his belief that the policy was enacted “based purely on anecdotes and without any data or health science to support that decision,” the Morris County based lawmaker said that “safely and responsibly using our State’s open spaces should continue to be encouraged, not prohibited” to help lessen the negative impact of ‘stay home’ order.TapInto, April 13, 2020 by Al Sullivan, “County, Local Officials seek alternatives to Murphy’s coronavirus park closures” 

At least seven U.S. and Canadian cities, including Portland, Minneapolis, and Calgary, have temporarily stopped or limited access to vehicles on certain corridors in order to help walking, biking, and outdoor respite-taking happen in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Bogotá, Mexico City, and Berlin have all expanded cycling networks to make way for bikes, which have emerged as the non-car mode of choice in a time of social distance. Around the world, calls to increase urban sidewalk space to allow for safer pedestrian use are getting louder.CityLab, April 3, 2020 by Laura Bliss, “Mapping How Cities Are Reclaiming Street Space.” 

During these trying times, exercise could provide indispensable mental-health support for many of us, according to a timely new study. The study finds that among a generally healthy but sedentary group of adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s, working out lowers levels of depression, hostility and other negative feelings.The New York Times, April 8, 2020 by Gretchen Reynolds, “Feeling Down? Anxious? Hostile? A 4-Day-a-Week Exercise Regimen May Help.”