Lexi Tuddenham: A generational investment in health and environment is on your ballot

Salt Lake City voters should support the bond issue for parks and open space.

For many Utahns, access to the outdoors is a defining feature of life in Utah. Whether climbing in the Wasatch Mountains, hiking in our canyons or enjoying family time in a local park, being able to connect with our natural world is core to who we are. However, access to the outdoors and the benefits of time spent outside are not distributed equally.

Public parks and open spaces are part of our state’s legacy — an invaluable gift that we can pass on to future generations. Their importance goes far beyond recreation. Open spaces improve air and water quality, protect and filter groundwater, prevent flooding and mitigate natural disaster impacts, all while providing habitat for wildlife and pollinators, buffering the negative effects of rapid growth and development and serving as sanctuaries from climate change.

Access to green space is also proven to provide a myriad of human health benefits, from playing a key role in child development and creating cohesive social communities to improving attention spans and reducing physical and mental stress.

This year, voters in Salt Lake City have the chance to vote on a general obligation bond to make a generational investment in parks and public green spaces in the city. When deployed effectively, improving access to quality green space, as this bond would do, can help support vulnerable populations suffering from higher health burdens and rates of chronic disease.

Among the many benefits of the bond for our health and our environment are the following:

  • Increasing the city’s tree canopy and plant biodiversity by restoring natural landscapes in parks and open spaces. This includes improvements that use less water and are tailored to the changing environment of Utah. Not only do trees and other plants improve air quality locally by capturing particulate matter, but green spaces mitigate the urban heat island effect that is worsening in our city with climate change, potentially reducing heat-related illness and death rates.

  • Investing in waterways, including the Jordan River, to improve and protect our scarce water resources, and create habitat corridors for threatened migratory birds and pollinators.

  • Creating new access and expanding trails connectivity to parks and public lands in neighborhoods such as the Granary District and the west side of Salt Lake City that have historically been deprived of green spaces, a first step toward addressing environmental injustice in these communities that are also subject to higher rates of exposure to air pollution and other toxics.

In addition to the opportunities above, voters can ensure that Salt Lake City continues to lead the way in preparing for and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Rarely do voters hold the key to important climate change or health policy in their own hands. This is your chance. We encourage Salt Lake City voters to support the parks and public lands bond on your ballot, for your health and ours, by voting yes.

Lexi Tuddenham

Lexi Tuddenham is the executive director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah).