The Nature Prescription

I ran across an interesting article recently about a new kind of prescription that some doctors are issuing. According to the article, rather than prescribing drugs, the doctors are prescribing . . . nature. In order to treat conditions like stress, asthma, obesity, and anxiety, doctors are instructing patients to get off their duffs, get out of their houses, and enjoy hiking, walking, or other activities in specific parks and green spaces. The “nature prescription” is apparently particularly popular with pediatricians who are concerned about the spike in childhood anxiety, inactivity, and increasing obesity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Studies show that time spent in nature is effective in reducing stress and addressing obesity. Neither of those results should be surprising; parks are quiet, less crowded, and far away from stress inducers like rude people, news broadcasts, and angry social media posts. And while you can’t be out in nature without getting at least some exercise, you also aren’t near the refrigerator, the snack drawer, or the jug of sugary soda that might otherwise tempt you.

Doctors who are using the nature prescription approach try to be specific with their patients. They identify a park or green space near the patient, and then discuss how often the patient should go to the park and the activities they should follow for a specific period of time–say, walking briskly for 30 minutes every other day. The doctors report that a specific instruction on what to do, and for how long, is more likely to be followed by the patient than a general admonition that the patient “get more exercise.”

There are obvious challenges with “nature prescriptions”–parks to hike in are a lot easier to find in Maine than in Manhattan, for example–but I think the notion of “nature prescriptions” is a great initiative. We need to get away from the idea that every condition can be addressed with a pill, and encourage people to be more active and to exercise more control over their health and their mindsets. I’ve been following my own “nature prescription” for years, and my experience with morning walks is that fresh air, exercise, and some quiet time to think can work wonders.

The Parklet On Our Block

IMG_1105At the west end of our block of Gay Street, next to the intersection with High Street, a kind of wooden module sits on the street adjacent to Cafe Brioso.  It’s pill shaped, and with its unfinished wood it looks like something you might find on a Fourth of July parade float or as the project of a high school wood shop class.  The outward-facing side of the object has a pink-paint-and-green-shrub “PARKT” sign — with the pink letters spelling “art” — and some plants along a ledge at the top.

It’s called a “parklet.”  The sign on the object explains that parklets are intended to “creatively and temporarily transform parking spaces into open public spaces,” where people can sit, relax, rest, and watch the street life go by — and sure enough, the parklet on our block features benches and stools.  The sign adds that parklets are “a new dynamic that will generate more interesting and engaging public spaces for Columbus, Ohio.”  The sign identifies corporate and community sponsors that presumably underwrote the cost of building and moving the parklet and occupying a parking space.

“Parklets” are an interesting idea that, if the results of my Google search are to be believed, started in San Francisco, where they are part of a “pavement to parks” initiative, and have been adopted by some other cities, including Columbus.  The parklet on our block looks as if it has been designed to be picked up, put on a flatbed truck, and moved to a new location where more public seating space is desired.

I’m all for increasing public seating space in our downtown, but I’d like to see Columbus take the next step and acquire some of the surface parking lots that are found downtown and turn them into pocket parks.  A parklet is a nice idea, but an actual park with green trees, shaded walkways and seating, and perhaps a fountain would be even better.

We’ve got some downtown green space — like the Statehouse lawn, Columbus Commons, the Scioto Mile, and the Topiary Gardens — but the section of downtown north of Broad Street is pretty much parkless.  (I don’t count Sensenbrenner Park, which is mostly concrete.)  With more people moving downtown to live, they will be looking for places to jog, work on their yoga poses, or just sit and read a book as the breeze ruffles through the trees above.  Even a small chunk of new green space, like the Ohio Police and Fire Memorial Park at the corner of Third and Town, would be welcome.

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I Hate Sawmill Road

I hate Sawmill Road.

Those of you who live in Columbus know what I am talking about.  For those of you who don’t live in our fair city, think of a landscape denuded of nature and replaced with the worst imaginable combination of asphalt, concrete, strip malls, overhead power lines, parking lots, ugly signs, chain stores, and cars, cars, cars.

IMG_1194When you are on Sawmill Road, waiting — and, with the ridiculous traffic congestion that you always find there, you are assured of doing lots of waiting — depressing sights await you in all directions, unbroken by green space.  It’s like the worst aspects of commercial development have been mashed together by some giant economic forces and crammed into a grim four-mile stretch of road.

Shortly after our family moved to Columbus in 1971, I took driver’s ed.  The part of the course where you actually drove a real car took place on Saturday mornings, with the driving instructor supervising and several students trading places behind the wheel.  After I got picked up we always drove north to Sawmill Road.  It was a country road then, with trees and unbroken farmland on both sides.  About a mile up you would find Tuller’s Fruit Farm, a family farm and apple orchard with a rambling wooden store.  We would stop there for a cup of cider and a glazed doughnut before continuing with our lessons.

Sawmill Road was a pleasant drive 40 years ago, and now it is a nightmare that you avoid unless you absolutely must go there.  During the intervening years no one did anything to limit the wretched excess, and now the damage is irreparable.

Welcoming The Green Space Of Columbus Commons

A view of Columbus Commons from one of the Rich Street entrances

Yesterday it was a beautiful, spring-like day in Columbus, and after lunch I took a walk down to Columbus Commons — the latest green space in downtown Columbus.  The area has just been sodded and is close to being completed for its grand opening in May.

At one of the Third Street entrances

Columbus Commons is the park that has replaced the late, lamented Columbus City Center mall.  After the City Center became a derelict place abandoned by all retailers and shoppers, there was a vigorous debate about what to do.  The decision was to tear the structure down and replace it with a park.  The result is Columbus Commons — 9 acres of green space with benches, tables and chairs, and a carousel.

My first impression of Columbus Commons was that it is big.  It has enormous central lawns that apparently will be used for kickball leagues.  (Let’s hope the park also has a good underground sprinkling system so those broad and inviting green lawns don’t turn brown and brittle in August.)  There are newly planted trees along some of the wide gravel pathways, large flower beds bordered by short iron fencing, old-fashioned black metal lighting, and plenty of benches.  Some of the entrances are brickwork, with pillars and large circular planters.

The view from the corner of High and Rich Streets

Downtown Columbus needs green space, so Columbus Commons is very welcome.  The park looks to be well-designed, and if it is kept properly planted and tended it should be an attractive place for an outdoor lunch on a warm summer day.  The park also allows for some unexpected and attractive vistas of downtown buildings.

The big question many downtowners have about Columbus Commons is:  who will use it, and how?  Will it become a haven for drug deals and aggressive panhandlers, or will it be a place where the burgeoning Columbus food cart scene sets up shop and caters to office workers happy to get a green space break from their cubicle-oriented lives?