Local northern New Jersey health leaders, including the head of Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, announced joining forces on June 25 with the Open Space Institute, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance in support of the creation of the Essex-Hudson Greenway–citing the far-reaching physical and mental health benefits associated with greenways and linear parks.
“The Essex-Hudson Greenway project would contribute to make our community healthier and stronger, especially in a post-pandemic period where people are evaluating ways to improve their overall health and to safely socialize and interact with their neighbors and friends,” said Mary Ellen Clyne, president and chief executive officer of Clara Maass Medical Center.
The need for easily accessible green space was underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people flocked to the outdoors for physical, emotional and mental health. The distinct need for parks and outdoor space was even more dramatic in those communities that lack adequate access to outdoor recreation – the very same communities that have vast health and economic disparities.
For walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers and others, the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway would create nearly 9 miles of linear park, connecting Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Newark, Kearny, Secaucus and Jersey City.
The Open Space Institute and its partners have already begun investing in planning, surveying, environmental assessments, and more. This preliminary work is already supporting jobs associated with planning and acquisition work that will lead to hundreds more design, engineering and construction jobs.
The project also offers the potential to reduce traffic and storm water runoff in towns along the rail line, improve transportation options for residents and allow for improved infrastructure connectivity for things like broadband and emergency response.
According to the advocate groups, the overall health of the public benefits greatly by ease of access to attractive, safe, accessible places to bike, walk, hike, jog, skate and enjoy nature. Greenways and related trails offer better opportunities for an active lifestyle, especially in more urban areas, becoming sources for individuals to meet the national health goals of 30 minutes per day of moderately intense, daily physical activity for adults (or 60 minutes per day for youth).
Greenways and multi-use trails create healthy recreation and transportation opportunities, making it easier for people to engage in activities that enhance their physical and mental well-being. As our communities surface from the COVID-19 pandemic, people are looking for more outdoor, safe alternatives to exercise and enjoy nature,” said Kathleen Smith, program director for the Partners for Health Foundation. “By making the Essex-Hudson Greenway a reality in northern New Jersey, we make our communities more exercise-friendly and more attractive to new residents, businesses and more.”
Greenway projects positively impact equity and environmental justice issues, especially projects in more urban communities like the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway.
“Overburdened communities,” those municipalities where a majority of residents are low income, minority and/or have a limited understanding of English, are often in urban locales where housing density, as well as levels of greenhouse gases, emissions and other pollutants are high. As a result, these areas are home to higher rates of obesity, asthma, heart disease and other chronic conditions, and saw higher than average rates of COVID-19 infection and related deaths.
Many of the municipalities adjacent and near the path of the proposed Greenway fall into these classifications, making equitable access to open green space and more positive health outcomes that much more important for residents in these communities.
Residents of communities all along the proposed length of the linear park have campaigned for more than a decade to create a greenway that would serve as a “shared-use path” for people walking, riding a bicycle, running, rolling, or just relaxing along this corridor. Access to greenways and other public spaces for recreation is an important factor in the ability to exercise, especially in areas with significant population density and where residential properties are compact and offer little open space. Studies show that 30% of people who are physically active exercise in public parks and green spaces, while 50% are more likely to meet health and exercise recommendations if they have easy access to these public spaces.