With their towering buildings, crowded streets, and tight-packed homes, modern cities often stand in stark contrast with their natural surroundings. However, scattered throughout almost every city are patches of green—parks, gardens, green roofs, and even urban forests. While it is widely accepted that these urban green spaces have value as visually appealing natural areas within cities, their contribution goes far beyond the aesthetic. Studies have linked proximity to green spaces with increased physical activity, decreased obesity, and better mental health. Green spaces also help mitigate the effects of urban heat islands and reduce air pollution. One study found that the air quality benefits from just a ten-kilometer by ten-kilometer urban green space can prevent two hospital admissions and two deaths per year.
The benefits of urban green spaces are staggering, but not everyone can take advantage of them. All over the world, a disproportionate number of residents in low-income and minority communities do not have access to green spaces and can’t reap their benefits. San Francisco has been applauded for its abundant and accessible green spaces—it was the first city in the United States to build a park within a ten-minute walk of every resident. In this “green” city, are green spaces equitably distributed?
The City of San Francisco provides data on the locations of its green spaces.
The city also publishes data on the percentage of non-white residents and the percentage of residents living below the poverty line in each neighborhood. Non-white residents are concentrated in the south and northeast, while residents in poverty are concentrated on the east side of the city.