Equitable Park Funding Hub
The Equitable Park Funding Hub provides easy access to information on a variety of funding sources relevant for parks and recreation in low-income communities and communities of color, and highlights the partnerships required for successful funding.
Parks, trails, and nature support public health, workforce development, local economies, the environment, and community cohesion. And yet historic disinvestment has left many communities with the greatest need with the least access to quality parks and recreation opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse and has shined a spotlight on park inequities. Now more than ever, high-quality parks and public spaces in disadvantaged communities require creative and wide-ranging partnerships to unlock local, state, federal, and private funding sources.
As many state and federal funding sources in the Hub are competitive, require match dollars, and often cannot cover maintenance or programming, stable local public funding is essential for a successful and equitable park system. Local funding enables communities to ensure investments promote equitable impacts and address local disparities.
This Hub highlights select federal, state, and local funding programs that can be particularly effective at funding parks and green infrastructure in low-income communities. It is not intended to be a comprehensive source of funding opportunities, but a starting point with examples and case studies.
The Equitable Park Funding Hub is the result of a two-year collaborative research effort between the City Parks Alliance, Groundwork U.S.A., and the Urban Institute. Support for this work was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
EXPLORE PARK FUNDING
Use this tool to filter, sort, and learn about funding opportunities and potential partnerships.
General FundA city’s general fund pays for most capital and operating expenses. The revenue comes primarily from property taxes and elected officials allocate the funds to city functions through the annual budget process. Parks and recreation funding can, therefore, vary, influenced by local politics, a city’s economic fortunes and the engagement of citizens in the budget process. Parks and recreation departments are often the first to have their budgets slashed and the last to see them increased. Park advocates and nonprofits play an important role in ensuring consistent funding for parks year to year. Cities with strong nonprofits and organized advocates tend to have the most stable public funding for parks. For more information on making the case for parks and building a strong network of park advocates, see Other Resources below.Park Funding UseCapital/Land Acquisition, Operations/Maintenance, Programming
General Obligation BondsA general obligation bond (GO bond) allows local governments to borrow money. It is a municipal bond backed by the credit and taxing power of the issuing jurisdiction. General obligation bonds rely on the investor’s trust that a municipality will repay its debt through taxes on residents. The city can use the revenue to fund parks and repaying with tax revenue. General obligation bonds are approved by elected officials through the legislative process or by citizens by ballot measure, according to local and state laws.Park Funding UseCapital/Land Acquisition
Sales and Use TaxesSales and use taxes can be passed by legislatures or by popular vote. Some jurisdictions allocate a certain percentage of local or state sales taxes to parks, while others pass specific sales tax measures dedicated parks and Special Park Districts. With any new tax measures, additional legislation might be required to prevent tax revenue from simply replacing general fund dollars—a zero-sum game. General sales taxes apply to a broad base of goods. Substantial revenue, therefore, can be generated with a relatively low tax rate, keeping the per-household burden low. Sales taxes are regressive, however, and have a greater impact on low-earners, particularly when applied to essential goods, such as food and clothing. So called “sin taxes,” are a subset of sales taxes imposed on commodities or activities that are perceived to be unhealthy or have a negative societal effect±—cigarettes, gambling and alcohol for instance. Critics contend that these taxes also disproportionately affect low-income families.Park Funding UseCapital/Land Acquisition, Operations/Maintenance, Programming
Property TaxesMany jurisdictions opt to levy taxes on the value of personal property, to fund parks and recreation initiatives. State laws vary whether revenue from property tax levies can be used for operating costs or capital investments. Property tax levies can be passed through legislative initiative or tax referendum.Park Funding UseCapital/Land Acquisition, Operations/Maintenance, Programming
Share Your Experience
This Hub highlights select federal, state, and local funding programs that can be particularly effective at funding parks and green infrastructure in low-income communities. It is not intended to be a comprehensive source of funding opportunities, but a starting point with examples, links to additional information, and case studies.
We invite you to help us make this Hub stronger by sharing your experiences applying for and implementing programs with these funding sources.