Urban green space has been positively associated with psychological and physical health. However, the linkage between exposure to parks and health outcomes remains unclear. The current study examined the meanings that people assign to city parks, as a way to understand the pathways by which parks exert their effects on health. We conducted qualitative interviews with twenty culturally diverse residents in New York City. Thematic analysis was performed on the qualitative data. Results showed that all themes identified were related to parks fulfilling a basic human need for connection to (1) family, loved ones, and friends; (2) community and neighborhood; (3) self; and (4) nature. Based on these data, we proposed a human-centered framework for future research and interventions aimed at catalyzing parks as a vehicle to improve health and wellbeing. A human-centered approach emphasizes targeting the deep-seated needs and values of those we seek to engage and for whom health promotion and disease prevention efforts are designed. Our study shows that park transformations need to incorporate careful considerations of the human need for connection on multiple levels, so that park usage and its consequent health benefits may be optimized.
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