San Franciscans Now Live Only 10 Minutes From a City Park

If you live in the city of San Francisco, you are never more than a 10-minute walk from a park. How's that for green? It hasn't always been this way. In fact, it's only been two weeks since The Trust For Public Land announced that San Francisco is the first city in the United States to achieve almost 100 percent recreation saturation, with anywhere in the city being within half a mile of one of its 220 municipal parks.

The Trust for Public Land is a nonprofit organization that helps raise funds to protect and restore natural spaces. It works with communities to create, plan and design public parks, playgrounds, trails and gardens. Adrian Benepe, TPL's Urban Parks Director, says that, close-to-home access to parks is essential for clean environments, public health and equitable, thriving communities.

The Trust estimates that a good 20 percent of the land area of San Francisco is now covered by parkland. This not only helps counter the notorious urban heat island effect, it will also help to combat global warming. While San Francisco can't save the entire planet by itself, it demonstrates eloquently that it is possible to reverse the current trend toward rising temperatures and rising sea levels.

What is the urban heat island effect, and how may it intensify global warming? A UHI is an area that is measurably warmer than nearby rural areas purely because of human activities. The annual mean air temperature of a metropolitan area with a population of one million or more people can be 2-6F warmer than its surroundings. The main causes of the effect are modified land surfaces and the waste heat that is produced by heavy energy usage.

In cities like Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, exceptionally high summertime temperatures increase the probability of illness and death. A high intensity of UHI correlates with elevated concentrations of air pollutants that accumulate at night and reduce a city's air quality during the day. High temperatures also cause strokes, heat cramps, syncope and heat exhaustion. An average of 1,000 people die each year from extreme heat. Urban heat islands can increase a city's temperature by as much as 7C, thereby contributing to global warming. Economists warn this could diminish economic output by 11 percent.

In less than two weeks, the TPL announcement has already had a tangible positive effect on San Francisco's reputation. The city now ranks third place in the ParcScore report, second only to the two Twin Cities in Minnesota, where it's cold, and things keep better.


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