Blog Global Health Center

Restoration, parks and social determinants of health

Written by Serena Flórez Marqués, chemistry student at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus and participant in the 2023 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Students assist in Pocket Parks organization and clean up

Doing voluntary service with Pocket Parks was an amazing experience. According to their website they are “ a registered 501c3 non-profit organization that reimagines and redevelops unused plots of land to provide communities with active and beautiful recreational areas.” At different times of the morning, several community members, who had recently moved into that area, approached us (students in the Summer Research Program, RADIANCE track, who were there working to clear the property) and asked what we were doing there.

From a public health standpoint, interacting with community members is one of the biggest opportunities one could have. Parks can mean different things, and this meaning can change over time. Some parks can be turned into a place to walk, exercise, take the children, walk pets, or just set a picnic. This can promote a better lifestyle, and this can also promote recreational activities in the area. Sometimes when a park is abandoned, it can become unused and potentially be a site for criminal activity. Studies have established that fears of crime can act as a barrier to outdoor physical activities. However, efforts to create a positive park space can attract members of the community to visit and enjoy the outdoors.

Several guest speakers for the summer program have talked to us about social determinants of health. Public health advocates for measures to reduce chronic diseases, such as a clean environment and exercise. Public health implementation begins on the community level. Individual communities can reach out to Pocket Parks to renovate their park. Pocket Parks assist in the renovation project and invite volunteers to assist including community members. Is important to highlight that increasing the donations or possible funding of these types of projects could increase how many communities could impact. Amazingly, people want to renovate their parks and seek this kind of initiative. Pocket Parks are influential in transforming unused land plots into green spaces. Because of this organization, community members can have a better quality of life and engage in recreational activities. Seeing the community so surprised and thankful for the work we were doing was very rewarding and made me think further when I come home. How could I contribute to my community after learning how important this is for the social determinants of health?