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How Landscape Shapes Our Health

A few weeks ago, I spoke of a 2022 study published in a medical journal on community health that a mere 10-15% increase in access to natural space was linked to a 7% drop in early deaths in people younger than 65. Even moderate levels of access seemed to make a difference. But, even then, we have failed to embrace the one strategy that holds the best promise of giving citizens a shot at a new life. That would be to vastly enhance the natural amenities around us—the waters, the land, the prairies and woodlands, the canoeing and camping, the hunting and hiking, the biking and sightseeing. It is jolting to think that one’s zip code is a better indicator of health than one’s genetic code. Health should not be a luxury; it should be part of our common good in all our hometowns. Successful communities start by nurturing and capitalizing on opportunities for citizens to look at nature in a new way, learn from it, and enjoy it in all its beauty and splendor because wellness is achieved by it.

We will not grow and prosper as we should without clean air and water, many more outdoor recreational opportunities and cultural, historic and sightseeing amenities. A great deal of evidence points to the same conclusion. Natural amenities can make a key difference.

Cities and towns that have varied topography, relatively large riverfronts, and temperate summers have been the ones to grow more rapidly than others. Regions grow because people like their natural amenities and choose to live there. We have only scratched the surface of the possibilities of making the magnificent Upper Mississippi Valley a mecca. The Quad Cities could be the biking-vacation capital of the nation. However, gains such as prairie restoration and public acquisition of scenic treasures occur in painfully tiny increments here. I weep for the wasted potential. Iowa ranks 48thin per capita spending on natural resources and the environment. High quality growth is impossible without it. I picture a lush, mantle of green surrounding our urban development and the Quad Cities being the healthiest of cities.

River Action attempts to celebrate our natural wonders with events. This year we are working to offer twilight tours on the Arsenal Island senior golf cart tour for photography lovers and those who seek to relax with the colors of nature at that special time of day. We want them to enjoy the sunset, some privileged views, and the activity of birds at late afternoon. That could be a remedy for wellness.