680: Outdoor Access

A Thousand Things to Talk About
680: Outdoor Access

Do you work or spend your days somewhere that you don’t have a window or access to the outdoors? A 2011 study out of Norway tells us that you’re five times more likely to bring in plants or photographs of the outdoors into your space, compared to those that do have that access.

And access to the outdoors is also considered important enough that the UN Commission on Human Rights outlines in their minimum standards for treatment of prisoners that, quote:

Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.

More than those minimums, however, there’s plenty of research telling us that access to the outdoors is important — and spending time in nature even more so. Time in natural spaces can help improve our short-term memory, reduce stress, reduce inflammation, improve concentration, improve creativity, and more.

That doesn’t mean that all of these benefits are available to all, though. As a slate of 2017 articles pointed out, outdoor recreation, outdoor spaces, and the idea of being outdoors in general is much more white, and much more expensive, than many people realize. Quote:

Today, 80% of communities of color live “in areas where the proportion of remaining natural area is lower than the state average.” According to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, low-income neighborhoods are four and a half times less likely to have recreation facilities like parks in some states. Furthermore, what we consider “untouched wilderness” is anything but. As Kimberly Fanshier notes for Everyday Feminism, this concept centers around white people’s perspective and erases Indigenous populations who lived there for centuries before. Many national parks and public lands were built on colonized lands.

Being out of doors can be very beneficial to our health, in other words. But much like all things that are judged to be good for our health, the barriers to access and context wrapped up around them go deeper and are complex enough they’re worth examining.