Vibrant parks are at the center of resilient and equitable cities. These green spaces are used for recreation, respite, and community gatherings and also offer important infrastructure benefits, from stormwater management and flood mitigation, to health promotion and transportation options. Unfortunately, public funding for parks and green infrastructure — especially in low-income communities where their many benefits are often most needed — is frequently limited, leaving many residents without access to quality parks, recreational opportunities, and other positive environmental conditions. And low-income communities that do receive park and green space investments often have to balance these benefits against the threat of displacement for long-time residents and businesses.
While some “bright spots” are emerging at the municipal and state level across the country, each of these strategies and models presents challenges, especially when focused on serving communities in need.
National Research Initiative for Funding Parks and Green Infrastructure in Low-Income Communities
City Parks Alliance is currently leading a national initiative to research, curate and disseminate innovative strategies and models for funding parks and green infrastructure in low-income communities. The goal is to elevate replicable strategies that repurpose existing funding, partnerships that offer shared funding opportunities, and models that tap new funding sources. In addition, we are identifying approaches by cities to focus on the equity implications of park investment including community engagement, and transparent, data-driven resource distribution.
We have partnered with the Urban Institute to conduct a research scan of park funding strategies, with a particular focus on understanding how equity relates to funding decisions and how park leaders and communities can capitalize on parks’ many benefits to leverage funding for parks in low-income communities. We have also partnered with Groundwork USA to identify community pre-conditions for using these strategies successfully and ensuring real ownership and health equity gains for long-term residents. The analysis builds on City Parks Alliance’s ongoing research into the equitable resource distribution strategies of urban park and recreation agencies across the county. This work is made possible with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Urban Institute’s report will be released in July, ahead of City Parks Alliance’s biennial Greater & Greener international urban parks conference, in Denver, Colorado, July 20 – 24. The findings will inform multiple sessions at the conference as well as a broader dialogue on how park leaders and their partners can advance park equity. We will continue to share the findings of Urban’s research and the project’s other components with parks and recreation professionals as well as with other city agencies, community development organizations, equity advocates, mayors’ offices, health organizations, funding communities and other decision makers. Implementing these funding and park equity solutions will require new cross-agency and cross-sector partnerships.
Greater & Greener is the leading international conference for exploring the role of parks in addressing some of the biggest challenges in cities. This year’s Greater & Greener urban parks conference will feature multiple sessions focused on equity and park funding including:
- Parks, Housing and Inclusive Economic Development: This session will explore how park leaders and advocates can play a pivotal role in spurring inclusive economic development and driving affordable housing strategies with parks at the center of the strategy through strategic partnerships.
- Best Practices for Driving Equitable Investments in Parks: Attendees will hear how cities around the country have established criteria for investment in parks and green infrastructure in low-income communities and how cities are implementing their strategies through investment.
- Funding Parks and Green Infrastructure in Low-Income Communities: Participants will learn strategies for funding capital projects and operations, maintenance, and programming for parks and green infrastructure in low-income communities, with an eye towards mitigating green gentrification in high-growth cities and identifying viable strategies to leverage resources in low-growth cities.
Greater & Greener will bring together more than 1,000 leaders from parks and recreation, public works, transportation, city planning and other municipal agencies, mayors, advocacy and funding organizations, community leaders, designers and landscape architects, real estate developers and other stakeholders involved in city building. The highly curated sessions, workshops, and tours facilitate an honest dialogue around solutions, cross-sector and peer-to-peer networking, and tools for building successful park partnerships.
Catherine Nagel is the executive director of City Parks Alliance.