RESEARCH TEAM TO STUDY PARK ACCESS POLICIES IN US CITIES
Partnership between Trust for Public Land and College of Charleston will identify pathways to park equity through policy
January 12, 2023
Trust for Public Land’s 10-Minute Walk Program and the College of Charleston have launched a partnership to identify and advance the high-impact policies that influence park access. A new, first-of-its kind city policy assessment tool will establish an understanding of how cities around the U.S. are supporting equitable park access, and will serve as a policy roadmap for cities and communities to explore for local implementation.
“With over 300 mayors and local leaders committed to the 10-Minute Walk aims of investing in quality of life via parks and accelerating park equity, we’re working to develop the strategies and roadmap for action,” says Bianca Shulaker, 10-Minute Walk Director and Parks Initiative Lead. “Policy, funding, and planning are key pieces of the puzzle when it comes to creating equitable park systems and thriving cities. The landscape of park policy is complex and the prioritization of equity is relatively nascent in the field, so we hope tools like this menu of policy options will spur action to bring equitable park access to residents around the U.S.”
A research team, led by Dr. Morgan Hughey and Dr. Kendra Stewart of College of Charleston and the Riley Center for Livable Communities, will report on the “state of the field,” describing how U.S. cities are utilizing policy to tackle park inequities, and make recommendations for leveraging policy as a tool to increase access to parks and green space in high-need communities.
“From my perspective as a public health researcher, I know how vital it is that cities be better equipped to make policy decisions that account for equitable access to parks and greenspaces,” says Dr. Hughey. “We continue to see persistent health disparities across communities in the United States and know that the places that people live can be both contributors to and solutions for moving towards health equity. Policy approaches have been effective tools used in public health and healthcare, and we look forward to exploring those options for equitable park access in U.S. cities.”
Parks and green spaces are helping confront some of today’s most pressing societal challenges. They offer places to play, exercise, unplug, connect with others in our communities, and combat climate change. While the benefits of high quality, close-to-home parks and green spaces are vital to community health, resilience, and sense of social cohesion, there is a significant disparity in who has access to available park space, and not all parks are created equitably. In fact, 100 million people in the U.S., including 28 million children, do not have access to a close-to-home park or green space. Residents in low-income neighborhoods, and systemically under-resourced racial and ethnic minority communities have access to significantly less park space than residents of high-wealth neighborhoods.
This park equity gap is the result of decades of inequitable planning and policy decisions. By focusing on policy changes to reverse historical trends and drive more equitable outcomes, local leaders and officials can demonstrate their commitment to equitable park access for the entire community.
Creation of parks and green space touches on a wide range of civic functions – from budgeting and finance, to land-use, to community engagement; and requires collaboration across departments and sectors to implement change. While innovative solutions in some U.S. cities are emerging and gaining recognition, the field lacks resources that clearly describe the range of policy approaches local governments can utilize to advance park access.
The research team is developing a tool to identify and categorize the full range of park access policies, in order to support cities in targeting high-impact opportunities for policy change.
“Our intent is to produce a practical guide that will assist local government leaders in developing policies and making decisions that prioritize equitable park access in their communities,” says Dr. Stewart, Director of the Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Center for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston.
The research team will assess park access policies in a sample of 25 U.S. cities. The scan will include interviews with local government leaders and administrators in those cities in order to gain context, insight, and expertise on the formulation, adoption, and execution of park policies. Findings from the national scan will inform a report documenting the current extent to which cities are utilizing policy to improve park access, and will identify ways the field can better leverage the full range of policy approaches that can meaningfully advance park access in local communities. The research team will publicly share findings with an aim to encourage and facilitate strategic and widespread adoption of policies to improve equitable park access by local leaders.