New report emphasizes people, parks, and power

Today, the park equity movement in the U.S. is at a turning point. Parks and other green spaces are crucial for the health and wellbeing of communities—a fact made even clearer during the pandemic. But not all communities have access to these vital resources. Correcting inequities demands advocates’ utmost attention, urgency, and action. A new approach to achieving park equity can unlock transformation and usher in an era in which African American, Latino, and low-income urban communities are fair, just, and green.

Across the U.S., a growing number of jurisdictions are adopting park and green space equity policies. These include public finance measures that have an equity focus, park agency organizational changes, documentation of green space needs and inequities, joint use policies for school yards, land use policies that facilitate access to green space, policies and ordinances requiring community engagement for park development, and anti-displacement provisions within green space equity initiatives. But in many low-income communities of color, longstanding green space inequities remain. A growing movement of park equity advocates—including community members exercising their own power—is working to change that.

In the new paper, Changing the Landscape: People, Parks, and Power, Prevention Institute and Alessandro Rigolon of the University of Utah propose an approach to park and green space equity that prioritizes investing in the capacity of people closest to the problem so that they can drive policy and systems changes that will achieve population-level impacts. Support for this paper was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Key takeaways of Changing the Landscape: People, Parks, and Power are below. Please join us for a free webinar on Wednesday, July 28 at 10:00am Pacific Time to learn about these points in more depth and hear an update on the planning of RWJF’s new national funding initiative on park and green space equity.

  • Urban parks and green spaces protect public health by providing opportunities for physical activity, time in nature, social connection, and respite. Parks also filter air, remove pollution, cool temperatures, and filter stormwater.
  • African Americans, Latinos, and people who live in low-income, urban neighborhoods have less access to parks and green spaces than people who live in more affluent or predominantly white communities.
  • These inequities are the product of policies and practices like residential segregation, redlining, racially biased planning decisions, and exclusionary zoning, as well as problematic narratives and ways of working in the green space field that have often excluded or tokenized communities of color.
  • The traditional approach to addressing these inequities has focused on developing new parks or green infrastructure projects or improving existing projects. While project development is crucial, a sole focus on individual projects fails to address the existing system that produces—and will continue to produce—green space inequities.
  • To address the root causes of green space inequities, the parks and green space field should embrace upstream policy and systems change.
  • Power drives policy and systems change. Building the skills, capacity, and power of residents who live in park-poor neighborhoods is key to achieving green space equity.

Park and green space inequities will persist until the systems, policies, power dynamics, and narratives that produced these inequities in the first place are redesigned to produce equitable outcomes. By embracing the approach described in Changing the Landscape: People, Parks, and Power, advocates and jurisdictions can solve pervasive, structural inequities and support healthy, vibrant communities.