A letter from OPHI partner, Bobby Cochran, Executive Director of the Willamette Partnership:

There is growing evidence that expanding greenspaces, and access to them, can increase physical activity, mental health, social cohesion, and air quality. A patch of trees, designed and planted by the community, and sidewalks that connect neighbors to each other and to nature can have a vast array of benefits.

The Portland news has been full of recent discoveries of air pollution hotspots. Yet we’ve known about disparities in exposure to toxics, access to living wage jobs, and overall health for a long time. What’s different now?

The same US Forest Service research that revealed those hotspots for heavy metals was intended to quantify the benefits of greenspace. The new evidence that concentrations in moss could be used to measure exposure is going to drastically change how air quality is managed in this country. The research has highlighted the central importance of engaging with communities to find solutions that enhance equity and create integrated solutions to some really complex problems. Yet exposure to cadmium is just one sliver of public health. We need to address the myriad of public health issues that underpin healthy communities.

Willamette Partnership is a conservation organization, but we know that it will be impossible to create healthy rivers and thriving habitat unless we have healthy people and thriving economies. That’s why we teamed up with Oregon Public Health Institute, Oregon Community Health Workers Association, Oregon Healthiest State, Portland State, and the Intertwine Alliance to build the Oregon Health and Outdoor Action Framework.

The Action Framework is intended to:

  • Engage with communities to support more people spending more time outdoors in green spaces to generate health
  • Provide the research that lets communities use greenspace as an evidence-based strategy
  • Support the kinds of policy that would let the Oregon Health Plan pay for trees just as easily as it does for pills

OPHI is coordinating the statewide initiative with partners picking up the leads for research, policy, and communications. OPHI and ORCHWA, to me, represent the future of environmental conservation, just like I hope Willamette Partnership can support a future that improves the public’s health.