Long-disinvested communities frequently lack amenities, including walkable access to neighborhood parks. Yet parks and neighborhoods need each other. In his well-researched book Urban Green, my friend Peter Harnik of the Trust for Public Land persuasively makes the case that parks need urban density nearby in order to be cared for and thrive, while neighborhoods can use parks to attract more investment, housing and businesses. Peter heads the Trust’s Center for City Park Excellence.
Los Angeles is often cited as a park-deprived city. Although there are miles of wonderful shoreline and beaches, and abundant parkland up against the Santa Monica Mountains, these areas are not conveniently reachable from the heart of the city, especially from poor neighborhoods. Most of the city’s population cannot walk to a park. My colleagues in NRDC’s Southern California office have been working for years to bring more parkland within reach of these communities.
The American Society of Landscape Architects cites the research:
A University of Chicago study found that communities with lower incomes, higher poverty rates, and higher proportions of racial and ethnic minorities also had the “fewest opportunities for community-level physical activity.” Lack of green space is then not just about unfairness, it’s about health. Low-income communities may have higher rates of health problems like obesity and asthma in large part because they don’t have parks.
As ASLA points out in a post on their excellent blog site The Dirt, new parks can sprout up in the unlikeliest of places. In particular, low-income, inner-city communities are frequently characterized by hardscapes – asphalt surfaces. When a community organizes and creates a plan for a new park, local governments can respond and purchase asphalt-covered areas like parking lots and transform them into public community parks. Philadelphia, for example, recently announced an ambitious plan to convert small vacant spaces into neighborhood parks.
Watch this excellent video produced by ASLA to learn more about how neighborhoods can be revitalized with parks:
ASLA also has a terrific "online exhibition" of twenty case studies illustrating how sustainable landscapes can transform communities.
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Kaid Benfield writes occasional Village Green commentary on Huffington Post and (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment on NRDC's Switchboard. For daily posts, see his Switchboard blog's home page.