Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5), Majority Whip John J. Igliozzi Esq. (Ward 7), and Councilman James E. Taylor (Ward 8) call on Mayor Elorza to reopen public parks, green spaces, and trails for respite and educational purposes.
Mayor Elorza issued an executive order to close all parks, green spaces, and trails to the public until May 8, 2020. While Governor Raimondo has allowed state parks and beaches to remain open while only closing parking lots to limit the number of individuals that can visit at one time. The Councilors believe that the Mayor’s executive orders should mirror the Governor’s orders to lessen confusion and the spread of misinformation.
Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan stated, “We are asking residents of Providence to stay in their homes as much as possible, which is needed to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and flatten the curve. Yet, we also have an obligation to balance the need for the public’s physical health with their mental health. Time outdoors is critical to ensuring that our residents – of all ages – have opportunities to get fresh air and spend time in nature. We know that spending time outdoors helps lessen anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. Over the years, my colleagues and I have invested much of our precious Neighborhood Infrastructure Funding and Capital Improvement Plan funding into our neighborhood parks for this very reason. I think we can all agree that many of us are experiencing a high rate of anxiety due to the current health crisis. I believe that by following the Governor’s lead of keeping parks open, wearing cloth masks, and by practicing social distancing measures, we can allow for residents to visit their neighborhood parks, trails, and green spaces.”
Public health is paramount to the City Council and its members, but that must include ways to address mental health as well. This also presents an opportunity to work with the Governor to use these spaces as a way to inform individuals of the current crisis.
“There are several positive public health factors to reopening our parks, green spaces, and trails in a controlled and responsible manner,” stated Majority Whip John J. Igliozzi, Esq. “By reopening our natural areas, we can provide our neighbors with the much-needed ability to get fresh air and exercise. By deploying members of our police department to monitor our natural areas, and to ensure that safety protocols like social distancing and number of individuals congregating together are being adhered to, I believe we can do this in a measured and safe way. By reopening the parks in a controlled manner, it provides us the opportunity to enhance our community’s well-being both physically and mentally. It will allow residents to get to know the men and women of the Providence Police Department that serve in their neighborhoods; provides an extra level of public safety; and more importantly, we have an opportunity to share information about the virus, testing, and mitigation efforts with individuals that might not otherwise have access to that important information. It is naïve to think that every resident is watching the Governor’s daily press conference or receiving City emails regarding the current crisis. I strongly encourage the Mayor to reopen our parks, trails, and green spaces and use this opportunity to get information out to those that might not otherwise have access to it.”
The Councilors understand that the virus can stick to metal playground equipment, and are supportive of cordoning off that equipment to keep residents and children safe. Yet, they also know that being able to spend time in nature has many positive impacts on productivity and mental health. There are 1000’s of scholarly studies that show that spending time in nature – even if it is just walking through a park – can relieve stress and anxiety for individuals. Now, more than ever, eliminating that option for residents could potentially do more harm than good.
Councilman James E. Taylor stated, “For many in my neighborhood Roger Williams Park is used daily for walkers, runners, and people who just need to get outside. I believe that if the Mayor would rethink his Executive Order and close our parks to traffic and parking, neighbors could safely use their neighborhood parks, all while practicing safety measures as recommended by the Governor and Dr. Alexander-Scott of the RI Department of Health. By closing the traffic to Roger Williams Park, it would create wider areas for individuals to run and walk, making it easier to maintain social distancing. I hope that for consistency sake, the Mayor will change his order to mirror that of the Governor’s so we can all take it outside and relieve the stress that so many of us are feeling.”
The Councilors are hopeful that by working together with the Mayor and his Administration that we can reopen our beautiful parks safely and provide the much-needed benefit – of Vitamin-N (for Nature).
For more information on the importance of access to nature, here is an article published by Stanford University: Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature.
Here is an opinion piece from Monday’s Washington Post: Keep parks open. The benefits of fresh air outweigh the risks of infection.