Project Description

Health Parks Healthy People logo


Institute at the Golden Gate


Nationwide, widespread decline in physical activity is resulting in increases in obesity, chronic disease, and mental ill-health. Not only does this challenge create a fiscal burden, but also it compounds social determinants that further health inequity and exacerbate the decline in outdoor activity. Spending time in nature enhances mental and physical wellbeing, but the average adult now only spends less than 5% of their time outdoors.

At the Institute at the Golden Gate (the Institute), we have an ambitious vision for parks—one where they are generators of solutions for social challenges. As an incubator of new ideas, the Institute saw an opportunity to address escalating healthcare issues with a simple, low-cost solution. Our innovation works at the intersection of public health and parks to advance vibrant and healthier communities.

In June 2012, the Institute, in partnership with the East Bay Regional Park District and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, convened thirty-four individuals representing Bay Area sixteen organizations. Participants included an unlikely mix of health care providers, community groups, and park professionals. Together, we created the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area (HPHP: Bay Area) collaborative.

Since then, the Institute has served as the coordinating body for the initiative, creating a space for partners from parks, health, and the community to come together to identify common challenges and pilot joint solutions.

Early on, HPHP: Bay Area developed a unifying mission for our collaboration: To improve the health and wellbeing of all Bay Area residents, especially those with high health needs, through the regular use and enjoyment of parks.

We thought creatively about how the collective impact of our agencies could overcome barriers to park use. The result was two programs, one leveraging park programs (First Saturdays) and a second, utilizing health provider relationships with the target audience (Park Prescriptions).

First Saturday programs “pull” target populations into the park and are staff-led, introductory, and free. Perhaps the most unique feature is that programs are available consistently across the region, with agencies in all nine Bay Area counties hosting targeted programs the first Saturday of every month. Based on sample data, we estimate that these programs have attracted approximately 6,000 participants since they were launched in June 2013, 40% of which are first time park users.

At the same time, Park Prescription programs “push” target audiences into parks by providing a well-developed link to park resources in a health care setting. A 2014 San Francisco Community Health Resources Survey showed that nearly all health care providers would recommend exercise for inactive patients, but only 30% would provide specific information. Through Park Prescription programs, health care providers gain critical information on park resources to close that gap. They can then identify patients that would benefit from time in nature and provide them with specific information on nearby parks and a warm handoff to First Saturday programs. Currently, four of the nine counties in the Bay Area are piloting these types of Park Prescription programs.

To learn more visit the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area website