Individuals living in socioeconomically deprived inner cities have disproportionately high rates of
cardiovascular disease, cancers, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, which have stress- and physical
activity-related etiologies. Previous research on the urban built environment suggests that parks
may reduce stress and increase physical activity. Yet, the causal health relationships have been
difficult to establish due to reliance on cross-sectional designs, coarse exposure assessment,
limited health effects data and neglect of negative aspects of green space (e.g., litter, noise).
This study will capitalize on an upcoming natural experiment in five low-income neighborhoods
in Detroit, MI involving the ecological restoration of unmaintained parks to grassland meadows.
Five control park neighborhoods were matched on demographic and built characteristics. This
longitudinal study will include participants (n=590 after attrition) from ten intervention/control
park neighborhoods with baseline measurement then annual measurement for three years post-
restoration. Our study will be the first natural experiment to examine the impact of ecological
restoration with individual-level measurement of visual/auditory exposure (e.g., greenery,
birdsong) to green space on health. We will go beyond the usual objective measure of physical
activity (GPS/accelerometer) in park studies to include a validated stress biomarker (salivary
cortisol) and cardio-metabolic indicators (BMI, blood pressure, hip-to-waist ratio, C-reactive
protein and A1C). The question to be answered is: Does ecological restoration of abandoned
parks into grassland meadows and bird habitats increase nearby resident?s physical activity,
lower their stress, and improve their cardio-metabolic health? We propose three aims. Aim 1:
Establish the effect of ecological restoration of parks on physical activity from baseline through
3-years post-restoration, using a non-randomized design. Aim 2: Illuminate the stress reduction
potential of restored parks. Aim 3: Evaluate the effect of ecological restoration on downstream
cardio-metabolic health outcomes. Understanding the role of ecological restoration on health will
provide the unique opportunity to inform replication, scalability and generalizability for cities
managing park resources in low-income neighborhoods. Our findings will be vital in the
development of policies needed to mitigate pervasive socioeconomic disparities in obesity, Type
2 diabetes, cancer, and cardio-metabolic health.
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