Planning for equity and health in Santa Rosa

Roseland-based Viki Hernandez appreciates the great outdoors. “I love Bayer farm. It’s close to my home and I can go for walks, play, and plant vegetables with my kids. I feel really relaxed when I can plant the garden plot with my children. Many households do not have green spaces or trees at home. The park and garden have helped my family and other families in the neighborhood do sports and clear our minds. “

According to the Center for American Progress, many people, especially People of Color, live in places where there are no shady parks. While only a quarter of whites have no access to nature, two thirds of colored people do not have this access. This discrepancy is not accidental. In the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corp., a federal agency, enacted exclusive zoning laws, and neighborhoods inhabited by minorities were “bordered in red.” This meant that home mortgages and parks were not granted in these areas, while highways and polluting industries were allowed.

Bayer Neighborhood Park & ​​Gardens in Roseland is a success story for planning and health equity. It supports recreational opportunities for people of all ages and incomes, and promotes the physical and mental health of its neighbors, while its trees and gardens cool the summer nights and remove carbon from the air. Access to parks is associated with a lower risk of obesity, heart attacks, and strokes. Many studies have documented what Hernandez noticed: spending time in nature reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Parks were especially important for walks during the pandemic.

As a local equity success, LandPath’s Bayer Farms can inspire us to develop plans and guidelines that will improve the health of Americans, especially those who live in disadvantaged communities. The current Santa Rosa general plan update process will guide decisions in the future. This update includes an emphasis on Policies for a Healthy City with the support of a Kaiser Permanente Scholarship. These funds encourage the participation of underrepresented communities, those with limited access to planning activities and / or those facing major health inequalities.

Why are public health professionals involved in urban planning in Santa Rosa? They want to improve residents ‘health by addressing historical planning inequalities while integrating healthy behavior into residents’ daily lives. This can be achieved by redesigning suburban sprawl to create incentives for healthy behavior, such as safer ways to walk or cycle for physical health. This process can also be used to address future health challenges.

Regarding the climate, health professionals and planners are trying to mitigate the effects of heat-related health conditions such as heat stroke. One method is to plan and design cities in such a way that they reduce “heat islands”. These are places where temperatures are hotter in summer due to the lack of shade from trees. Asphalt and buildings heat up during the day, but cool down very slowly at night, if at all. These islands are about 3 to 7 degrees hotter than more affluent, shady areas in summer.

In this plan, a “Healthy City” policy can be added to reduce heat islands in Santa Rosa by adding shade trees in areas that are currently uncovered. Santa Rosa could then apply for climate grants. These grants would fund nonprofits to organize volunteer working days to plant and water shade trees in low-income heat island areas.

This attempt to increase the tree population in targeted neighborhoods would enable disadvantaged residents to benefit from cooler air. These shade trees would lower household energy bills, remove pollutants and carbon from the air, and improve the mental health of local residents as our local climate continues to warm.

How can residents today advocate these healthy urban adjustments? Use our online survey at to let us know your comments. If you would like visioning workshops in your organization or group to be presented in English or Spanish, contact the project team at

And for a cooler morning, plant a shade tree in your front yard if you can.

Windsor-based Lois Fisher is an urban designer for Fisher Town Design, and Beatriz Guerrero Auna is a justice and public health planner for the city of Santa Rosa.

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