Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Urbanization, the rise of sedentary lifestyles, and increasing screen time have led to a significant decline in nature contact, or how much time people spend in greenspace. At the same time, urban populations are experiencing declining physical and mental well-being. While nature contact has been shown to have a variety of health benefits, these benefits have not been well-quantified or verified across different geographic contexts. In addition, there is a lack of clarity around how the benefits of nature contact vary temporally (e.g. seasonally) and between different types of greenspaces. In this dissertation, I investigate the health benefits of urban parks at three spatial scales. In Chapter One, I used the Hedonometer, a sentiment analysis tool, to show that people write happier words on Twitter when visiting parks in San Francisco. The sentiment benefit, or change in average word happiness from baseline, was highest for the larger and greener regional parks. In Chapter Two, I applied similar methods to the 25 largest cities in the US and again found higher sentiment during park visits. The sentiment benefit was highest for the largest parks and during weekends and the summer. In Chapter Three, using national health surveys and a database of municipal park systems, I found that increased park access is associated with lower prevalence of negative health outcomes (including obesity and mental health) across the 500 largest cities in the US. The findings of this research support the importance of protecting and enhancing urban nature and can be used by urban planners and public health officials to better inform nature contact recommendations for growing urban populations.
Number of Pages
Schwartz, Aaron J., "Quantifying the health benefits of nature contact in cities across the US" (2020). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 1268.